Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of lampoon?

The definition of lampoon is a satirical work aimed at criticizing an individual or institution.

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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

In literary contexts, a lampoon is a work of prose or poetry that uses satire to harshly criticize someone or something.

Lampoon comes from the French word lampons, meaning “let us guzzle” (a refrain that appeared in French drinking songs), from the Germanic lamper, meaning to “to drink, to guzzle.”

Lampoons were popular in English literature from the Restoration through the 18th century. While the term lampoon did not enter the English language until the 17th century, the literary form has existed for millennia. The earliest known examples of this style are found in ancient Greek theater. 

Aristophanes’s play The Clouds lampoons Socrates’s teaching methods. Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay “A Modest Proposal” lampoons the plantation system in Ireland and the extreme poverty it has caused by suggesting a solution to the problem: that the Irish sell their babies to the wealthy as food.

see: satireirony 

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