• slapstick •
slæp-stik • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Two flat paddles used by Vaudeville comedians, one hinged to the other so that when something (or someone) is hit with it, one slaps against the other delivering a much louder bang than expected. 2. [Noun, mass] The kind of crude humor based on knockabout melodrama and farce, with or without slapsticks.
Notes: Today's good and funny word came to us be way of synecdoche (no, not Schenectady). Synecdoche [si-nek-dÍ-kee] is a type of metaphor in which a part of something represents the whole. If your pal asks if you have wheels, meaning a car, he is guilty of synecdoche—a poet who doesn't know it! A slapstick was once a prop so tightly identified with broad humor that it became our word for that type of humor itself.
In Play: We usually associate slapstick with the movies of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Keystone Cops, the Marx Brothers and, last but not least, the Three Stooges. However, it is still alive and well in such recent movies as Dumb and Dumber. "Honestly, what he did at the office party was pure slapstick; he even put a lampshade on his head."
Word History: Today's word is a compound made up of two purely English words—how is that for a rarity? Stick was originally an instrumental noun from the verb stick "to poke", i.e. an instrument for poking. That is probably the same root in thistle, too, without the initial [s]. (The Fickle S is just about as common in Indo-European languages as the Fickle N.) It is related to Greek stigma, which we borrowed pretty much as is, a noun based on the verb stizein "to prick, tattoo". In Latin we find it in the stem -stigare "to spur, prod on", the stem of instigare, the origin of our instigate. (Today we owe a tip of the hat to Luis Alejandro Apiolaza, Uncronopio of the Agora for wondering aloud what this Good Word is all about.)
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