The term clown did not come into use until the 16th century and has an uncertain etymology. It probably comes from the Scandinavian dialect (Icelandic klunni, Swedish kluns, both indicating “clumsy”) or might come from Latin colonus, “farmer.” The term can be defined variously depending on the context of the clown activity or performance. Therefore, this entry offers a definition of clown as it is found in a range of societal and performative settings: ritual, circus, theater, and film. It also discusses the appearance and behavior of clowns in each of these frames.

Wherever clowns appear they are identifiable through both behavior and appearance. They can function as truth tellers and social commentators as well as fulfilling the role of entertainer. Clowns are anarchic, parodic, ...

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