from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A debased or grotesque likeness.
  • noun An exaggerated or grotesque imitation, such as a parody of a literary work.
  • transitive verb To make a travesty of; parody or ridicule.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Disguised; burlesqued.
  • To disguise by a change of vesture.
  • In lit., to give such a literary treatment or setting to (a serious production) as to render it ridiculous or ludicrous; hence, by extension, to burlesque; imitate so as to render absurd or grotesque. See travesty, n.
  • noun In lit., a burlesque treatment or setting of a subject which had originally been handled in a serious manner; hence, by extension, any burlesque or ludicrous imitation, whether intentional or not; a grotesque or absurd resemblance.
  • noun Synonyms Burlesque, Parody, etc. See caricature.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • adjective rare Disguised by dress so as to be ridiculous; travestied; -- applied to a book or shorter composition.
  • noun A burlesque translation or imitation of a work.
  • transitive verb To translate, imitate, or represent, so as to render ridiculous or ludicrous.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun An absurd or grotesque misrepresentation
  • noun A parody or stylistic imitation.
  • noun pejorative A grossly inferior imitation.
  • verb transitive To make a travesty of; to parody.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a composition that imitates or misrepresents somebody's style, usually in a humorous way
  • noun a comedy characterized by broad satire and improbable situations
  • verb make a travesty of


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[From obsolete, disguised, burlesqued, from French travesti, past participle of travestir, to disguise, parody, from Italian travestire : Latin trāns-, trans- + Latin vestīre, to dress (from vestis, garment; see wes- in Indo-European roots).]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From French travestir ("to disguise"), from Latin trans ("over") + vestire ("to clothe").


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  • Travesty of justice

    June 10, 2007

  • Means "transvestite" in Greek.

    July 13, 2009

  • A cognate of transvestite. Who knew?

    "We first played all the few pieces in which only males are requisite; next, we travestied some of ourselves; and at last took our sisters into the concern along with us."

    -- Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, I.viii

    June 29, 2011

  • Eddie Izzard has a bit about that, I think.

    June 29, 2011

  • 15 of the 26 thumbnails give me 'This photo is currently unavailable.'

    June 30, 2011

  • I think this is one of those words whose dictionary meaning doesn't match its common meaning. The dictionary meaning is "mockery" or "grotesque parody", but when I hear it, it usually means something like "disaster" or "disgusting state of affairs" or "offensively bad situation". The tweets on the right side of this page all support this latter definition.

    My best guess is that travesty used to mean "mockery", but the meaning has drifted over time. I wonder how long it will be before the major dictionaries update their definitions?

    January 18, 2012

  • Very observant, ptero. I rarely read the definitions of familiar words.

    January 18, 2012

  • Looking at the examples, and especially the tweets, it seems that when people use travesty in the sense of "disaster" or "disgusting state of affairs" they often do so as a short form of the stock expression travesty of justice. E.g.

    “It is too depressing by far to know that Justin Beiber has more hits on Youtube for his version of Somebody to Love than Queen. A travesty” - @jactherat

    “If Brighton win this it will be a travesty. Wrexham have been superb.” - @lawrenceVB

    “However, the big travesty is that if you live in Manhattan delivery is free – you live in the Bronx and the sale is no sale at all.” - Wine prices - beating the spread online and in-store | Dr Vino's wine blog

    I also suspect there to be some confusion with tragedy.

    January 18, 2012

  • Excellent point about the cross-pollination from tragedy!

    I'd argue that most people who use "travesty" as a short form of "travesty of justice" aren't aware that that's what they're doing. I figure it started with a bunch of people who DID intentionally shorten "travesty of justice", and then a second bunch of people who didn't know the meaning of the word "travesty" (i.e. "mockery") heard the word being used by the first bunch, and inferred from context that it meant "disgusting state of affairs".

    Does that sound like a plausible sequence of events?

    January 19, 2012

  • That makes sense to me. There's an interesting bit about travesty over in the Century Dictionary definition for caricature. I'll just copy it here:

    "The distinguishing mark of a caricature is that it absurdly exaggerates that which is characteristic, it may be by picture or by language. A burlesque renders its subject ludicrous by an incongruous manner of treating it, as by treating a grave subject lightly, or a light subject gravely. Burlesque may be intentional or not. A parody intentionally burlesques a literary composition, generally a poem, by imitating its form, style, or language. In a parody the characters are changed, while in a travesty they are retained, only the language being made absurd. (See travesty.) In a burlesque of a literary work the characters are generally changed into others which ludicrously suggest their originals."

    January 19, 2012

  • I was just looking at the American Heritage definitions for travesty, caricature, parody, and burlesque. There's an interesting pattern:

    Travesty: "A debased or grotesque likeness: a travesty of justice. See Synonyms at caricature."

    Caricature: "A grotesque imitation or misrepresentation: The trial was a caricature of justice."

    Parody: "Something so bad as to be equivalent to intentional mockery; a travesty: The trial was a parody of justice."

    Burlesque: "A ludicrous or mocking imitation; a travesty: The antics of the defense attorneys turned the trial into a burlesque of justice."

    Edit: mockery has it, too: "A false, derisive, or impudent imitation: The trial was a mockery of justice."

    January 19, 2012

  • The ngram data is (as so often) interesting. Before about 1880 there is nothing but a whole lot of mockery of justice. But then comes the rise of the travesty of justice, usurping mockery of justice around 1910 and now more than twice as common.

    Of the other options offered by the Century, only parody of justice has any support in the corpus, and is at best a minority choice.

    January 19, 2012

  • noun: an absurd presentation of something; a mockery

    What I expected to be an intelligent, nuanced historical documentary turned out to be a poorly-produced travesty of the form.

    October 19, 2016