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rebus 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.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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