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[kloun] /klaʊn/
a comic performer, as in a circus, theatrical production, or the like, who wears an outlandish costume and makeup and entertains by pantomiming common situations or actions in exaggerated or ridiculous fashion, by juggling or tumbling, etc.
a person who acts like a clown; comedian; joker; buffoon; jester.
a prankster; a practical joker.
Slang. a coarse, ill-bred person; a boor.
a peasant; rustic.
verb (used without object)
to act like a clown.
Origin of clown
1555-65; earlier cloyne, clowne, perhaps akin to Old Norse klunni boor, Danish dialect klunds, Swedish dialect klunn log
Related forms
clownish, adjective
clownishly, adverb
clownishness, noun
3. lout, churl. 4. bumpkin. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for clowning
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Do you think we will let you ruin everything by your clowning?

    Scaramouche Rafael Sabatini
  • "All for your good," said Torpenhow, not in the least with reference to past clowning.

  • Like everything else in this busy world, clowning must be timely.

    The Autobiography of a Clown Isaac Frederick Marcosson
  • At every piece of clowning there was the same responsive gurgle of delight.

    Plays, Acting and Music Arthur Symons
  • And his clowning and mugging made it impossible to play a legitimate scene with him, with any shadow of professional self-respect.

    The Real Adventure

    Henry Kitchell Webster
  • He took a great bite from the fruit, clowning the action with a forced expression of relish.

    Asteroid of Fear Raymond Zinke Gallun
  • One night when Dan was clowning in the ring the prominent citizen entered and drew his revolver to kill.

    Sawdust & Spangles W. C. Coup
  • The bears themselves perform their parts most decorously, without any horseplay or clowning.

    Practical Cinematography and Its Applications

    Frederick Arthur Ambrose Talbot
British Dictionary definitions for clowning


a comic entertainer, usually grotesquely costumed and made up, appearing in the circus
any performer who elicits an amused response
someone who plays jokes or tricks
a person who acts in a comic or buffoon-like manner
a coarse clumsy rude person; boor
(archaic) a countryman or rustic
verb (intransitive)
to perform as a clown
to play jokes or tricks
to act foolishly
Derived Forms
clownery, noun
clownish, adjective
clownishly, adverb
clownishness, noun
Word Origin
C16: perhaps of Low German origin; compare Frisian klönne, Icelandic klunni clumsy fellow
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for clowning

1861, verbal noun from clown (v.).



1560s, clowne, also cloyne, "rustic, boor, peasant," origin uncertain. Perhaps from Scandinavian dialect (cf. Icelandic klunni "clumsy, boorish fellow;" Swedish kluns "a hard knob; a clumsy fellow," Danish klunt "log, block"), or akin to North Frisian klönne "clumsy person." Or, less likely, from Latin colonus "colonist, farmer," though awareness of this word might have influenced the sense development in English.

Meaning "professional fool, professional or habitual jester" is c.1600. "The pantomime clown represents a blend of the Shakes[pearean] rustic with one of the stock types of the It. comedy" [Weekley]. Meaning "contemptible person" is from 1920s. Fem. form clowness attested from 1801.



c.1600, "to play the clown onstage," from clown (n.); colloquial sense of "to behave inappropriately" (e.g. clown around, 1932) attested by 1928, perhaps from theatrical slang sense of "play a (non-comical) part farcically or comically" (1891). Related: Clowned; clowning.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for clowning



A person for whom the speaker feels mild contempt, esp one whose behavior merits derision: Get this clown off my back and let me help you (1920s+)


(also clown around) To behave frivolously; persist in inappropriate levity (1940s+)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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