The word "comedy" is derived from the Classical Greek κωμῳδία kōmōidía, which is a compound of κῶμος kômos (revel) and ᾠδή ōidḗ (singing). The adjective "comic" (Greek κωμικός kōmikós), which strictly means that which relates to comedy is, in modern usage, generally confined to the sense of "laughter-provoking". Of this, the word came into modern usage through the Latin comoedia and Italian commedia and has, over time, passed through various shades of meaning.
The Greeks and Romans confined their use of the word "comedy" to descriptions of stage-plays with happy endings. Aristotle defined comedy as an imitation of men worse than the average (where tragedy was an imitation of men better than the average). However, the characters portrayed in comedies were not worse than average in every way, only insofar as they are Ridiculous, which is a species of the Ugly. The Ridiculous may be defined as a mistake or deformity not productive of pain or harm to others; the mask, for instance, that excites laughter is something ugly and distorted without causing pain. In the Middle Ages, the term expanded to include narrative poems with happy endings. It is in this sense that Dante used the term in the title of his poem, La Commedia.
As time progressed, the word came more and more to be associated with any sort of performance intended to cause laughter. During the Middle Ages, the term "comedy" became synonymous with satire, and later with humour in general.
Aristotle's Poetics was translated into Arabic in the medieval Islamic world, where it was elaborated upon by Arabic writers and Islamic philosophers, such as Abu Bischr, and his pupils Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes. They disassociated comedy from Greek dramatic representation and instead identified it with Arabic poetic themes and forms, such as hija (satirical poetry). They viewed comedy as simply the "art of reprehension", and made no reference to light and cheerful events, or to the troubling beginnings and happy endings associated with classical Greek comedy.
After the Latin translations of the 12th century, the term "comedy" gained a more general meaning in medieval literature.
In the late 20th century, many scholars preferred to use the term laughter to refer to the whole gamut of the comic, in order to avoid the use of ambiguous and problematically defined genres such as the grotesque, irony, and satire.