Definition of rebus in English:


nounPlural rebuses

  • 1A puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters; for instance, apex might be represented by a picture of an ape followed by a letter X.

    • ‘There seem to be puzzles, maybe even a few rebuses or word-games hidden in it too.’
    • ‘An epigraph typically functions as a rebus for an essay, providing a gloss or indicating the author's approach.’
    • ‘A rebus is a picture puzzle, and it seemed to click.’
    • ‘It may be that the heraldic nature of the squirrel's significance in the painting suggested the rebus like pun to represent the place name.’
    • ‘Just last week one of the words in the rebus puzzle was a cow plus a banjo minus the letter ‘M.’’
    • ‘Designs often took the form of pictorial puns and rebuses, or word puzzles.’
    • ‘Similar to doing a rebus or crossword puzzle, it's a drawing of nine dots, and the challenge is to connect them without lifting the pen from the paper.’
    • ‘Suppose I have a picture-puzzle, a rebus, in front of me.’
    • ‘It's something of a rebus, though perhaps involving more associative skills than your average rebus and doesn't make sense except as a melding of personae.’
    • ‘The bamboo signifies uprightness, as mentioned above; the fungus, or lingzhi, was also thought to contribute longevity and the five bats are a rebus or pun.’
    • ‘The relaxed conjunction of leaf and slingshot forms a rebus, suggesting the proximity of support and threat in relationships between things - all sorts of things, human, animal and mineral.’
    • ‘It's in the form of a rebus and translates to ‘I'm watching you.’’
    1. 1.1historical An ornamental device associated with a person to whose name it punningly alludes.
      • ‘Amongst fragments set into the background of a fifteenth-century panel depicting St Mary Magdalen in the east chancel window are quarries with fragments of the Lovell rebus.’
      • ‘Among the myriad rebuses on the aforementioned double-sided sheet at Windsor, there is an elaborate one on the verso that includes an image of a black yarnwinder.’
      • ‘Margaret's shrinelike tomb canopy is almost hidden under carved foliage and tracery, with openwork rebuses, initials and ropework.’
      • ‘Visual puns and rebuses had been popular features in the heraldic imprese or devises of France for centuries.’
      • ‘As layered rebuses of meaning with an exceptional iconographic density, they visually manipulated inherited codes of social value, adroitly invoking both positive and negative contemporary references.’
      • ‘For Leonardo, the double meaning of word-images in a rebus, like the deceptive vagaries and elusive nature of vision, must have made him acutely aware of the relativity of perception.’


Early 17th century: from French rébus, from Latin rebus, ablative plural of res ‘thing’.