- a representation of a word or phrase by pictures, symbols, etc., that suggest that word or phrase or its syllables.
- a piece of writing containing many such representations.
1605, from L. rebus "by means of objects," ablative plural of res "thing, object," perhaps 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."
"The symbols included drawings of events, portraits labeled by name (the king 4-Wind, for example, being shown by symbolic wind and four little bubbles in a line), and even punning rebuses."
- Charles Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus