Why do we call it slapstick comedy? Well, when the word was first coined in 1896, it was quite literal. When somebody would fall onstage, they would snap together a contraption of two wooden planks to make a humorous slapping sound, a common stage technique that exaggerated the fall and make it more comedic in general. The word slap is of imitative origin; try slapping yourself in the face, and the sound you make is very similar to the word. This is true for several other Germanic languages as well. The word stick takes a more conventional route; through Middle English stikke, it comes from Old English sticca, which meant something more like "rod". This in turn, through Proto-Germanic stikko, comes from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root "stig", which meant "pointy", through a connection of sharpness associated with the rod in question. So, etymologically speaking, slapstick means slappointy.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.