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Which words can be used when person A pretends to be person B to make people laugh by behaving and speaking like person B for a short period in front of a group of people who know both.

( but not necessarily person A tries to humiliate person B)

Person A could be a student and person B could be a teacher or person A could be a employee and person B could be his/her boss in a simple scenario.

There are a bunch of words I may use about this but I couldn't figure out which ones fit for this kind of scenario.

Can you choose the right words from the link below.

Actually this question is kind of "what is the difference among to ape, imitate, mimic, impersonate" with a scenario

http://www.macmillandictionary.com/thesaurus-category/british/To-pretend-to-be-someone-else

  • What about the definitions/explanations given in your link leaves you unable to select the appropriate word for you context? – Jim Jan 24 '15 at 20:33
  • well definitions are mostly "to copy someone’s actions, words, or behaviour, often in order to make people laugh". So I dont know what the difference would be in meaning if I choose one of them. – Mrt Jan 24 '15 at 20:35
  • actually this question is kind of "what is the difference among to ape, imitate, mimic, impersonate" with a scenario – Mrt Jan 24 '15 at 20:38
  • I think you need to be more specific in the statement of your scenario. What is the intent behind the action (besides making the current audience laugh) is it mean-spirited? wholesome? kidding? are they trying to point out what they consider a flaw or an endearing quality? All these things could change the "best fit" here. – Jim Jan 24 '15 at 20:55
  • well for my scenario , the intention is kidding and person A is trying to point out an endearing/distinguish quality. – Mrt Jan 24 '15 at 20:59
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Others have made some good points. There are many words for "acting like another person" with different connotations.

To "impersonate" or "pose as" means to pretend to be someone else with the intent to deceive, usually for some illegal or unethical purpose. Occasionally "impersonator" is used to describe someone who goes to great lengths to look and act like another person for entertainment purposes, like "Elvis impersonator" and "female impersonator". But I think those are rather special cases, we don't normally talk about an entertainer being an "impersonator".

To "play" someone is to pretend to be that person for a movie or stage play. Like you might say, "Bob Smith played Winston Churchill in a movie about World War 2."

To "imitate" is to copy someone else, but not to really pretend to be that person. "Imitate" is probably most often used to describe copying one particular behavior. Like you might say, "This famous athlete works very hard. I hope that children see that and imitate him." You don't necessarily want the children to wear the same clothes he does or talk like he does, etc, you just want them to copy this one behavior. It can also be used when the copying is just for amusement, like "George imitated Fred's walk" or "George imitated Fred's French accent".

To "mimic" or "ape" is to copy in a way that makes fun of the person. Like a bully is harassing someone and she says "please leave me alone" and so in an exaggerated whiny voice he repeats "please leave me alone". "Mimic" is also used as a technical term in biology to refer to a creature that resembles another creature, usually resulting in scaring off predators. Sometimes comedians who specialize in acting like famous people for entertainment are called "mimics".

To "parody" is to copy but not exactly, for humorous effect. You might say, "He took that serious song about undying love and made a PARODY of it about his love for hamburgers." "Parody" is also used metaphorically to mean that something is a copy that ruins the intent of the original. Like, "The biased judge and paid witnesses made the trial a PARODY of justice."

The most common phrase for what you are describing is probably "do an impression of", as in, "Bob is doing an impression of Marsha". In context, this is often shortened to simply "do", as in, "Hey, Bob is doing Marsha's morale building speech again", meaning he's doing an impression of Marsha giving this speech, probably making fun of her. Or a professional comedian might say, "Next, I will do Angela Merkel" to introduce his next impersonation.

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"Doing an impression of someone else" would be my first choice.

Example1: He does an amazing impression of <person name>
Example2(prefered): He does an amazing <person name> impression

"To mimic" or "to impersonate" are also widely used when one person is copying the actions of another.

EDIT: I would also like to add that "to pose as" and "to impersonate" is typically used to imply acting as someone else to trick or deceive others (maybe even for criminal/illegal purposes) rather than entertainment.

EDIT2: (as discussed in the comments) To impersonate someone you typically need to "dress up" or prepare in some sorts, but when doing an impression, you are merely "acting" or "talking" like the other person in a more casual sense (without dressing up or wearing make up)

  • Thank you.I haven't heard the idiom "Doing an impression of someone else" before. And I think in order to impersonate someone, you should prepare yourself by maybe making up or dressing up even for fun purpose ? – Mrt Jan 24 '15 at 20:50
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    Yes, there are many Elvis impersonators out there, for example, who are not criminally motivated. – Jim Jan 24 '15 at 20:51
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    impersonate and pose as does not necessarily imply criminal activity, but it is more often used to "trick" someone rather than to "entertain". Especially for "to pose as" – Abbas Javan Jafari Jan 24 '15 at 20:53
  • @Murat: You are correct. To impersonate someone you typically need to "dress up" or prepare in some sorts, but when doing an impression, you are merely "acting" like the other person in a more casual sense (without dressing up or wearing make up) – Abbas Javan Jafari Jan 24 '15 at 20:56
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    I'm not sure how "aping" can be used but imitating and mimicking is correct. imitating someone usually does not include "dressing up" like the other person but merely "acting" like him/her. – Abbas Javan Jafari Jan 24 '15 at 21:05
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"Imitate" can be either positive or negative (or neutral I suppose). You could imitate someone to follow their example - younger siblings often imitate older siblings. You could imitate someone in the context that you describe and it would be mocking them, which is negative.

Usually, I hear folks use "mimicking" for that type of behavior.

"He made fun of the teacher by mimicking her accent."

"Aping" implies that the imitation is clumsy or inept.

He was caught aping the teacher's accent.

"Impersonating" implies that you are trying to make everyone believe that you are who you are impersonating, so there really isn't a sense of mocking the person. An impersonation, unless it was done over the phone, would necessarily need the proper clothes, hair style, etc. Impersonation is done for either entertainment, like Elvis impersonators, or for fraud, like identity thieves.

I made a mistake when I used it in the example of a reporter impersonating a homeless person. That is better described as "going undercover". You can impersonate, for example, a doctor or a building inspector instead of an actual person, but your motivation for doing it would be to commit fraud of some sort. You wouldn't use "impersonate" to describe a police officer or reporter temporarily assuming an alternate identity to gather information.

Also related is "doing an impression" of someone. It's intended to be amusing, but it isn't necessarily mocking. Kevin Spacey did a series of impressions on Inside the Actors Studio that illustrate the idea really well. Some folks use impersonation interchangeably with impression, but it means something distinctly different to me. Here's a youtube example of an impersonator.

  • Hi thank you for your clear answer.Interestingly I was to ask about siblings behavior in this sense but I didn't want to make the question more confusing.Before your answer I was thinking that "I think the word I am looking for is mimicking".Because I thought "doing impression has almost the same meaning with impersonating".So "mimicking" connotes mocking but "doing impersonating" does not..But it could be funny.What I learned is that we imitating, impersonating and doing an impression have a common sense in some situations. – Mrt Jan 26 '15 at 10:02
  • Can I ask, as your reporter example, do a police officer "impersonate" an ordinary guy who wants to buy drug to catch drug dealers.I mean here the police officer acting like an regular guy who wants to buy drug without dressing up or make-up. – Mrt Jan 26 '15 at 10:09
  • @Murat Impersonate could be used I think, but usually we say the police officer has gone undercover as a drug buyer. We'd probably also use that for the reporter doing an investigation now that I think about it. I'll try to come up with a better example for impersonate. – ColleenV Jan 26 '15 at 13:30
  • @Murat I clarified my explanation of impersonate - your question about the police officer made it clear to me that my reporter example wasn't correct. – ColleenV Jan 26 '15 at 13:56
  • I have to disagree with ""Impersonating" implies that you are trying to make everyone believe that you are who you are impersonating, so there really isn't a sense of mocking the person." "Comic impersonation" is a direct counterexample. See, for instance, youtube.com/watch?v=I8GPsFWPez0 (the Bush bit is hilarious). – WhatRoughBeast Mar 8 '15 at 1:03

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