Rebus Words

A rebus is a traditional puzzle in which a message is encoded by replacing words by pictures and letters. You figure out the big picture by properly decoding the little clues.

Rebuses were once a common form of amusement in puzzles from the 19th century; they still showed up in children's puzzle pages in the newspaper some years ago, and still occur in the pages of Games magazine. At one time, there was a rebus version of Bible passages printed, presumably for the amusement and education of children. There have been a few recent puzzle books based on rebuses. A particularly interesting example is Kim Palmer's The Dream: a Rebus, which told a story entirely in pictures, and which was quite difficult to work out, since the meaning was complex, and the pictures often obscure.

By analogy, we may say that a rebus word is one that can be broken up into shorter words. Sometimes, the pronunciation of the shorter words is a false clue to that of the full word. Sometimes, the meaning of the shorter words is comical. Breaking up a big word into simple pieces is also a common strategy in charades.

abundancea + bun + dance
Armageddonarm + aged + don
artichokeart + I + choke
autodidactauto + did + act
castrationcast + ration
casualtiescasual + ties
digitdig + it
figurinefig + urine
Hippocrateshippo + crates
laceratelace + rate
legendleg + end
malefactormale + factor
massacremass + acre
medallionmedal + lion
mustachemust + ache
orbiteror + biter
pageantpage + ant
Popeyespope + yes
proliferateprolife + rate
pronouncementpronoun + cement
readjustread + just
sinecuresine + cure
sundrysun + dry
surfacesurf + ace
therapistthe + rapist

Last modified on 04 May 2006.