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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. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for clownish
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Larkin began a clownish Highland fling that eloquently spoke his thoughts.

    Aces Up Covington Clarke
  • These Macedonians are a rude and clownish people that call a spade a spade.

    The Thing from the Lake Eleanor M. Ingram
  • But those luckless, clownish mannikins seem to have agreed together to send the man to Tabal in Akhs!

    The Bbur-nma in English Babur, Emperor of Hindustan
  • Beside him, Jolly Robin seemed somewhat awkward and clownish.

    The Tale of Jolly Robin Arthur Scott Bailey
  • He despised what he called book-larning, and suffered his only son to grow up as ignorant and clownish as himself.

    The World Before Them Susanna Moodie
British Dictionary definitions for clownish


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 clownish

1560s, "rustic;" 1580s, "boorish, ungainly, awkward," from clown (n.) + -ish. Related: Clownishly; clownishness.



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 clownish



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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