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  1. 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.
  2. a person who acts like a clown; comedian; joker; buffoon; jester.
  3. a prankster; a practical joker.
  4. Slang. a coarse, ill-bred person; a boor.
  5. a peasant; rustic.
verb (used without object)
  1. 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 formsclown·ish, adjectiveclown·ish·ly, adverbclown·ish·ness, noun

Synonyms for clown

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3. lout, churl. 4. bumpkin. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for clownish


  1. a comic entertainer, usually grotesquely costumed and made up, appearing in the circus
  2. any performer who elicits an amused response
  3. someone who plays jokes or tricks
  4. a person who acts in a comic or buffoon-like manner
  5. a coarse clumsy rude person; boor
  6. archaic a countryman or rustic
verb (intr)
  1. to perform as a clown
  2. to play jokes or tricks
  3. to act foolishly
Derived Formsclownery, nounclownish, adjectiveclownishly, adverbclownishness, noun

Word Origin for clown

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

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