1. An artistic composition, especially literary or dramatic, that, for the sake of laughter, vulgarizes lofty materials or treats ordinary material with mock dignity
2. Any ludicrous parody or grotesque caricature
3. Also, bur·lesk: A humorous and provocative stage show featuring slapstick humor, comic skits, bawdy songs, striptease acts, and a scantily clad female chorus
1. Involving ludicrous or mocking treatment of a solemn subject
2. Of, pertaining to, or like stage-show burlesque
verb (used with object);
1. To make ridiculous by mocking representation
verb (used without object);
1. To use charicature
Dating to the 1660's, burlesque originally meant "derisive imitation, grotesque parody" and came from French burlesque. The French word dates to the 16th century and comes from Italian burlesco which derives from burla ("joke, fun, mockery"). Burla possibly descends from Late Latin burra, which is literally "flock of wool", but really conveys a sense of "trifle, nonsense". The verb form of burlesque dates to the 1670's while the use as "sketches at the end of minstrel shows" is first attested in 1857. Our American English usage as "a variety show featuring striptease" dates to the 1870's.
I was inspired to write about this word after listening to Tom Ashbrook's show 'Gypsy Rose Lee & Burlesque's Allure' on NPR's 'On Point'. Click on the link to read about Gypsy Rose Lee, watch a video of her in action, and listen to the NPR show, which aired January 26, 2011.