Most dictionaries define the verb form of travesty, more or less as "to make a travesty of". For eg.

The portrait travestied the king by exaggerating all his ugliest features.

But this usage as a verb seems extremely uncommon in modern English-- it's more natural to most people to say "make a travesty of."

My question is etymological: when was travesty as a verb popular, and when did it start dying out as a verb form? I've tried searching online but nowhere really seems to discuss it.

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    While it's a fresh use of the word, and you find no mention because no one else uses the word that way, the common word that fits is caricatured. Jun 15, 2017 at 16:47
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    The full OED records the adjective/noun usage a decade or two before the verb usage (in late C17). But as this NGram shows, the word had no significant currency over the next couple of centuries. Especially by comparison with caricature (which started to gain traction earlier, and is still far more common today, but doesn't have such extreme negative connotations to my ear). Jun 15, 2017 at 16:56
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    My guess is that between them, travesty of justice, ...of the truth, ...of the original, ...of the facts probably account for more than half of all written instances today. The verb form would be very unlikely. Jun 15, 2017 at 17:00
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    @FumbleFingers The other half is then presumably all “This is a travesty!” Jun 15, 2017 at 21:32

2 Answers 2


Interestingly, OED defines travested as an obsolete adjective that functions like the past participle "travestied" and antedates all attestations of "travesty" as either a noun, adjective, or verb.

Obs. As past participle: disguised; travestied.

1656 T. Blount Glossographia Travested, disguised or shifted in apparel; And metaphorically it may be applyed to any thing that is translated out of one language into another.

Travesty as a noun or adjective is not attested until c1662.

c1662 W. Davenant Play-house to Let i. i What think you Of Romances travesti..Burlesque and Travesti? These are hard words, And may be French, but not Law-French.

1664 Cotton (title) Scarronides: or, Virgile Travestie. A Mock-Poem. Being the First Book of Virgils Æneis in English, Burlésque.

Travesty as a verb is attested third, and appears earliest in the past participle, similar to "travested."

1673 Bp. S. Ward Apol. Myst. Gospel 42 Are the Mysteries of this Gospel..to be travestied or turned into Burlesque or Macaronique? 1756 J. Warton Ess. on Pope I. ii. 57 One would imagine that John Dennis..had been here attempting to travesty this description of the restoration of Eurydice to life.

So in OED, "travested" as a past participle appears before "travesty" appears at all. The full etymology provided suggests that the word was, in fact, derived from a French verb.

Originally < French travesti, feminine travestie , past participle of (se ) travestir (Montaigne a1592), ‘to disguise him, or take on another man's habit’ (Cotgrave), < Italian travestire to disguise (Florio), < tra- = trans- prefix + Italian vestire, Latin vestīre to clothe.

This description doesn't address the continued popularity of "travesty" as a verb, but I thought it was interesting (and relevant) that the word is derived from a verb and appeared first as a past participle, which runs quite contrary to what we're used to today.


Actually, the Google Ngram Viewer at least suggests that "travesty" as a verb is still more common than the phrase "make a travesty of". It doesn't show context, but here is the relevant graph of verb forms of "travesty" and "make a travesty of" (Ngram Chart 1):

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You can see that the most common variant by far out of these is "travestied", most likely because this form is used not only in the simple past tense, but also in perfect and passive constructions.

Yosef Baskin seems to be correct in saying that "travestied" is less common than "caricatured". The noun "travesty" also seems to be notably less common than the noun "caricature", and each of these nouns is more common than its corresponding -ed form (Ngram Chart 2):

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