Word curio icon

Word Curio

May 19, 2017

Word of the Day: Rebus

1 CQ

Word of the Day : May 19, 2017

rebus \REE-bus\ noun


: a representation of syllables or words by means of pictures or symbols; also : a riddle made up of such pictures or symbols


The answer to yesterday's rebus, which showed a man on an ark, a spider web, and a spoon stirring coffee, was "Noah Webster."

"The books are rebuses: They combine normally written words with emojis that substitute for words or parts of words." — Jessica Roy, The Los Angeles Times, 14 Dec. 2016

Did You Know?

A rebus communicates its message by means of pictures or symbols whose names sound like various parts of a word, phrase, or sentence. For example, a picture of a can of tomatoes followed by the letters UC and a picture of a well means "Can you see well?" In Latin, the word rebus means "by things"; rebus is a form of the Latin word res, which means "thing." English speakers started using the word rebus for picture writing in the early 1600s.

Aired May 19, 2017

All Merriam-Webster content is available at

  • Recommended Recommended
  • History & In Progress History
  • Browse Library
  • Most Popular Library

Get Personalized Recommendations

Let us help you figure out what to learn! By taking a short interview you’ll be able to specify your learning interests and goals, so we can recommend the perfect courses and lessons to try next.

Start Interview

You don't have any lessons in your history.
Just find something that looks interesting and start learning!

500 characters max
Bill T
Mel, I think you're right, but the written definition didn't say that. They separate the puzzle aspect with the word also. I'm trying to figure out what they mean by the first part. I don't speak Chinese or understand hieroglyphs myself, so I don't know the finer points. Do you understand Chinese? Does it operate the same way in that they are picture images with a standardized sound? If you know the answer, I'd love to know. :)
500 characters max
Bill T
How is a rebus different that Chinese or Hieroglyphics?
Mel I
i'm not quite sure but i'd say a rebus is based on puns and double-meanings of words. you don't refer to the depicted object as is, but actually want the reader to transfer the sound of that object's name to an alternative word with a different meaning: picture of a can => "can" (to be able to). the meaning of Chinese symbols is normally clear within a given context even though they're used in different combinations When playing Pictionary many ppl draw a rebus in order to describe a given word
500 characters max