Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
October 27th, 2015
Episode 362 of 689 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 27, 2015 is: slapstick \SLAP-stick\ noun 1 : a device made of two flat pieces of wood fastened at one end so as to make a loud noise when used by an actor to strike a person 2 : comedy stressing farce and horseplay; also : activity resembling slapstick Examples: Wally doesn't care much for contemporary comedy, instead preferring the slapstick of the Three Stooges. "Lane, a 28-year-old actor, portrays Wisdom in a play about the comedian's troubled early life and rise to fame as Britain's best-loved comic of the 1950s and 1960sa master of slapstick and pathos once praised by Charlie Chaplin as his favourite clown." Richard Blackmore, The Independent (London), 13 Sept. 2015 Did you know? The idea that knocking people about made for good comedy dates as far back as the Greco-Roman theater, where clowns rambunctiously "attacked" one another onstage. The object from which the word slapstick derives, however, was invented in Italy in the 16th century. Renaissance comedy typically featured stock characters placed in ridiculous situations, and one such ubiquitous character was Harlequin, whose brilliant costuming made him easily recognizable. Harlequin was given to wielding a paddle which was designed to make a terrible noise when he hit someone, usually to the delight of the audience. This paddle was eventually known in English as a slapstick, and it became a symbol of that type of highly physical comedy. The word slapstick then came to refer to the comedy itself.