AskDefine | Define showboat

Dictionary Definition

showboat n : a river steamboat on which theatrical performances could be given (especially on the Mississippi River)

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A river steamboat having a resident theatre
  2. In the context of "by extension}} A showoff


Extensive Definition

A showboat, or show boat, was a form of theatre that travelled along the waterways of the United States, especially along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. A showboat was basically a barge that resembled a long, flat-roofed house, and in order to move down the river, it was pushed by a small tugboat (misleadingly labeled a towboat) which was attached to it. It would have been impossible to put a steam engine on it, since it would have had to have been placed right in the auditorium. However, since the box-office success of MGM's 1951 motion picture version of the musical Show Boat, in which the boat was inaccurately redesigned as a deluxe, self-propelled steamboat, the image of a showboat as a twin-stacked steamboat with a huge paddle wheel has taken hold in popular culture. (Earlier film versions of Show Boat, and most stage productions of it, feature a historically accurately designed vessel, rather than the kind built for the 1951 film. Modern-day showboats, however, with their more advanced technology, are designed as steamboats.)
British-born actor William Chapman, Sr. created the first showboat, named the "Floating Theatre," in Pittsburgh in 1831. He and his family performed plays with added music and dance at stops along the waterways. After reaching New Orleans, they got rid of the boat and went back to Pittsburgh in a steam boat in order to perform the process once again the year after.
Showboats had declined by the Civil War, but began again in 1878 and focused on melodrama and vaudeville. Major boats of this period included the New Sensation, New Era, Water Queen, and the Princess. With the improvement of roads, the rise of the automobile, motion pictures, and the maturation of the river culture, showboats declined again. In order to combat this development, they grew in size and became more colorful and elaborately designed in 1900's. These boats included the Golden Rod, the Sunny South, the Cotton Blossom, and the New Showboat.
Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's musical play Show Boat (1927) and its film versions (1929, 1936, 1951) showed this type of theater.


Based on the gaudy look of showboats, the term "showboat" also came to mean someone who wants his or her ostentatious behavior to be seen at all costs. This term is particularly applied in sports, where a showboat (or sometimes "showboater") will do something flashy before actually achieving his or her goal. The word is also used as a verb. British television show Soccer AM has a section appropriately named Showboat, dedicated to flashy tricks from the past week's games.
Oft-cited examples of showboating include Leon Lett's grocery-bag-carrying of a recovered football (which he then had swatted out of his hand before the goal line) in Super Bowl XXVII; Bill Shoemaker's standing in the saddle before the finish line of the 1957 Kentucky Derby, costing him the win, and Lindsey Jacobellis's grab of her snowboard which caused her to crash right before the finish of the Snowboard Cross final at the 2006 Winter Olympics, costing her a first-place finish.
In boxing, showboating often takes the form of taunting, dropping one's gloves and daring an opponent to throw a punch, or engaging other risky behaviors while the match is ongoing.

See also


Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Elizabethan theater, Globe Theatre, Greek theater, amphitheater, arena theater, auditorium, cabaret, circle theater, club, concert hall, exhibitionist, flaunter, grandstand player, grandstander, hall, hot dog, house, little theater, music hall, night spot, nightclub, opera, opera house, outdoor theater, playhouse, show-off, theater, theater-in-the-round, theatron
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