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From the French?

Posted by David FG on September 21, 2004

In Reply to: From the French? posted by Chameau de mot on September 20, 2004

: : : : : We discussed this a couple of years ago. Yesterday, on a TV antiques programme, a collector of Punch and Judy memorabilia - he had hundreds of items - said it came from Mr Punch, who always had a humped back. It's said that Punch stored his frustrations, etc in his hump. Likewise 'slapstick comedy' came from him since he was always knocking other characters about with his stick, much to the amusement of the onlookers. Any comments?

: : : : Long ago I heard that a "slapstick" was a sounds-effect device used to make a loud slapping sound when one actor "struck" another. The Encyclopedia Britannica on-line credits the Commedia dell'Arte with originating it:

: : : : "It took its name from a paddlelike device, probably introduced by 16th-century commedia dell'arte troupes, that produced a resounding whack when one comic actor used it to strike another. "

: : : : My impression had always been that the device was struck off-stage but the Encyclopedia Britannica indicates the device was used to strike another actor. But a little stick held by a puppet wouldn't produce a very big sound, so maybe in puppet shows they slapped the stick off-stage simultaneously with the Punch hitting Judy. They do that in movies, too, when an open hand is used to slap an actor.

: : Punch and Judy shows are still to be found in the UK, and I can confirm that the small slapstick does make an unexpectedly loud noise when Punch strikes Judy, Toby, the baby, the policeman or the crocodile with it (clearly such a litany of domestic violence, child-beating, assaulting an officer of the law and animal cruelty has not yet come to the attention of the politically correct, or such shows would have been banned by now... mind you, toothy Tony Blair will probably soon get round to it).

: : All of which brings me in a roundabout way to the verb "to cop", meaning to obtain or get. I believe in the US you may also use the expression "to cop a feel" when talking about teen dating. In the UK we also have "to cop the hump" and "to cop a strop", both meaning to become annoyed or angry. Wherefore "cop"?

: "Cap" to catch?

From Latin 'capere' also meaning to catch?