in this definition of practical joke,

"playful or mischievous act intended to trick, deceive, or embarrass someone for the amusement of the prankster or others. It is usually harmless in nature and often involves a surprise or unexpected event that catches the victim off guard."

what is the role of the word "practical" in it? what idea it convey?

  • 2
    I think it's just that "practical" alludes to physically doing things, putting them, into practice (as opposed to ideas, words, verbal jokes). Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 12:12
  • My computer's built-in dictionary has this as the first definition, which I think hits the nail on the head… adj - of or concerned with the actual doing or use of something rather than with theory and ideas: there are two obvious practical applications of the research. Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 7:09

1 Answer 1


The Cambridge dictionary defines practical joke as

a joke that makes someone seem silly and involves a physical action rather than words

As @FumbleFingers commented "practical" alludes to physically doing things, putting them into practice (as opposed to ideas, words, verbal jokes)

This is confirmed by Wikipedia

A practical joke is "practical" because it consists of someone doing something that is physical, in contrast to a verbal or written joke. For example, the joker who is setting up and conducting the practical joke might hang a bucket of water above a doorway and rig the bucket using pulleys so when the door opens the bucket dumps the water. The joker would then wait for the victim to walk through the doorway and be drenched by the bucket of water. Objects can feature in practical jokes, like fake vomit, chewing-gum bugs, exploding cigars, stink bombs, costumes, whoopee cushions, clear tape, and Chinese finger traps. A practical joke can be as long as a person desires. It does not have to be short-lived

In this case "practical" is being used as an adjective because it describes the type of joke.

  • 1
    You'll see this same usage of "practical" in the phrase "practical effects" describing movie special effects filmed in the real world as opposed to computer-generated imagery (CGI).
    – bjmc
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 11:22

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