Say it with pictures

DO YOU KNOW WHAT A IS? A rebus uses pictures to make words. Sometimes the pictures don't show the subjects themselves. Instead, the sounds of the picture-words make up other words. Like this:

Now we use rebuses to make up fun puzzles. But rebuses have been used throughout history in many different ways. Some written languages are based on pictures, such as Egyptian or Mayan hieroglyphics and Chinese pictographs. These languages use pictures to represent objects.

It's easy to draw a tree or bird. But how would you "draw" a word like "treason"? You might draw something like this:

Rebuses like this are common in picture-based languages.

Rebuses have also been helpful for people who can't read. "Walk" and "Don't Walk" signs are often of people walking and standing, respectively. Rebus pictures were used in ancient times to show the names of towns on Greek and Roman coins. Today, we might draw lots of coil-springs on a field to represent "Springfield." An ox on a bridge would be "Oxbridge."

In Asia, rebuses were used to convey good wishes. In Europe they appeared on family mottoes to identify people's names. A picture of a well and two yams might represent "well yams" - Williams.

Have you ever given anyone an IOU? This is a rebus. The letters stand for "I owe you." You can make sentences out of letters by sounding out the letter names: I-F-N-I-N-U could be read "I have an eye on you."

Rebuses in children's books make it easier and more fun to learn to read. In these books, many words are used, but pictures are also added:

In some rebus puzzles, it's important where you put the letters and pictures:

Can you figure it out? "Eye" over "charged," N under "paid," sails, man. "I overcharged an underpaid salesman."

Around the middle of the 19th century in the United States, a new kind of rebus puzzle became popular. These rebuses asked you to add or subtract a letter from a picture-word to create another word. Popular rebus puzzles added or subtracted a letter from the picture-word to make another word. (In the rebuses on the facing page, for instance, "ST plus witch minus W" leaves you with "stitch.")

Try making up your own rebuses!

Some rebus resources

ON THE INTERNET: - Click on "Rebuses" to solve the rebus puzzles. Some of them talk. - This site has eight easy rebuses. - The unofficial home page of the old "Concentration" TV game show presents a new rebus each week. The rebus is hidden under panels that can be removed a few at a time.


For young readers:

Rebus Riot

by Bonnie Christensen

(Dial Books for Young Readers, 1997).

The Rebus Treasury

compiled by Jean Mazollo

(Dial Books for Young Readers, 1986).

Happy Thanksgiving Rebus

by David A. Adler

(Viking, 1991).

Happy Hanukkah Rebus

by David A. Adler,

(Viking Kestrel, 1989).

Here's a "Ghostwriter" mystery story (based on the former PBS-TV series) that you solve using rebus clues. It's for children in fourth through sixth grade. The book is out of print, but your local library may have it:

Read This Rebus (Ghostwriter)

by Eric Weiner,

(Bantam Books, 1994).

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Say it with pictures
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today