1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rebus

REBUS (Lat. rebus, “by things”), a sort of riddle consisting of the representation of some sentence or thing by means of pictures or words, or a combination of both. Rebuses first became popular in France, where they were at first called rébus de Picardie, that province, according to G. Ménage (1613-1692), having been the scene of their origin, which he found in the satires written by the students and young clerks on the foibles of the day under the title “De rebus quae geruntur.” Camden mentions an instance of this kind of wit in a gallant who expressed his love to a woman named Rose Hill by painting in the border of his gown a rose, a hill, an eye, a loaf and a well; this, in the style of the rebus, reads “Rose Hill I love well.” This kind of wit was happily ridiculed by Ben Jonson in the humorous description of Abel Drugger's device in the Alchemist and by the Spectator in the device of Jack of Newberry. The name is also applied to arrangements of words in which the position of the several vocables is to be taken into account in divining the meaning. Thus “I understand you undertake to overthrow my undertaking” makes the rebus

stand take to taking
I you throw my;

or in French

pir vent venir
un vient d'un

may be read “un soupir vient souvent d'un souvenir.” A still simpler French rebus is expressed by the two letters G a, which may be read, J'ai grand appétit (G grand, a petit). “Rebus” (or "allusive arms”), in heraldry, is a coat of arms which bears an allusion to the name of the person, —as three castles for Castleton, three cups for Butler, three conies for Coningsby.