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The word rebus goes back to the 1500s, and may be confusing. We will examine the definition of the word rebus, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A rebus is a puzzle, consisting of pictures or images that are used to signify the sounds of words or parts of words. For instance, a rebus consisting of a picture of an eye and a picture of a can of soup would translate to “I can.” The first book of rebus puzzles was published in France in the mid-1500s by poet Etienne Tabouro. A rebus story is sometimes used when children learn to read. During the Middle Ages, the mechanism of the rebus was popular when designing coats of arms. A visual pun or rebus used in heraldry is called canting heraldry. For instance, Princess Beatrice of York’s coat of arms includes three bees, or bees, trice. Rebus is a Latin word which means “by means of things or objects”. The plural form of rebus is rebuses.


Beer-drinkers got their first swig of the puzzles – technically called rebus puzzles – in 1950 when Lucky Lagers first featured them on its 11-oz. bottles. (The Houston Chronicle)

Humor and puns are common elements in a rebus, but some have serious messages. (The Journal Times)

In four experiments, Carola Salvi, a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University, John Kounios, a psychologist at Drexel University, and their colleagues presented college students with mind teasers, such as anagrams and rebus puzzles. (Scientific American)

Rather, we use the word “rebus” in a sense closer to its traditional (and dictionary) meaning: a representation of a word or phrase by pictures or symbols. (The Nation)