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c.1600, from Latin rebus "by means of objects," ablative plural of res "thing, object." According to French sources, 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 carnivals, subtle satires of current events using pictures to suggest words, phrases or things. Or it may be from the representations being non verbis sed rebus "not by words, but by things." In either case from Latin res "thing."
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.