/ree"beuhs/, n., pl. rebuses.
1. a representation of a word or phrase by pictures, symbols, etc., that suggest that word or phrase or its syllables: Two gates and a head is a rebus for Gateshead.
2. a piece of writing containing many such representations.
[1595-1605; < L rebus by things (abl. pl. of res), in phrase non verbis sed rebus not by words but by things]

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▪ writing principle
      representation of a word or syllable by a picture of an object the name of which resembles in sound the represented word or syllable. Several rebuses may be combined—in a single device or successively—to make a phrase or sentence. Literary rebuses use letters, numbers, musical notes, or specially placed words to make sentences. Complex rebuses combine pictures and letters. Rebuses may convey direct meanings, especially to inform or instruct illiterate people; or they may deliberately conceal meanings, to inform only the initiated or to puzzle and amuse.

      An early form of rebus occurs in picture writings, where abstract words, difficult to portray, were represented by pictures of objects pronounced the same way. These are common in Egyptian hieroglyphs and early Chinese pictographs. Rebus pictures were used to convey names of towns on Greek and Roman coins or names of families in medieval heraldry and for instructional symbols in religious art and architecture. In the Far East, especially in China and Korea, rebus symbols were commonly employed to carry auspicious wishes.

      In Europe, literary rebuses often appeared on family mottoes, personal seals, ciphers, bookplates, and ultimately in games or riddles. A familiar English rebus is the debtor's “IOU,” for “I owe you.”

      Popular in the United States after the mid-19th century were rebus picture puzzles in which the indicated addition or subtraction of letters in illustrated words produced another word or name. Such picture riddles have been widely used in advertising promotional contests.

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • rebus — (n.) c.1600, from L. rebus by means of objects, ablative plural of res thing, object. Perhaps principally from the phrase de rebus quæ geruntur of things which are going on, in reference to the satirical pieces composed by Picardy clerks at… …   Etymology dictionary

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  • rebus — [rē′bəs] n. [Fr rébus < L, abl. pl. of res, thing (see REAL1), lit., (meaning indicated) by things] a kind of puzzle consisting of pictures of objects, signs, letters, etc., the combination of whose names suggests words or phrases [a picture… …   English World dictionary

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