Purple Rose Puzzles webpages banner


metal piston for car engine   minus S plus C   post-it note with written word WHY   multiple letters M

No. of Players: 1+
Type of Game: written
What you need: pen and paper


To write a word as an image of what it represents.

How to play

A pictonym is a word image. Pictonyms have their letters drawn in such a way that it gives a sense of what the word symbolizes. Players challenge themselves or others to randomly select words from a dictionary and then illustrate what those words represent by creatively drawing their letters.

This game is similar to Rebus.


pictonym words: cash, whisper, snaking, fat, lone, cube, growing, fragmented

Did you know?

The first rebus was printed on a clay cuneiform tablet 5,000 years ago. Apparently, the ancient scribe needed to communicate the word 'reimburse,' but substituted instead an image of a reed. That presented a puzzle for readers, which they could only solve when they realized how the two Sumerian words were homophones – that is, they had two different meanings but were pronounced exactly the same.

reed image with word REIMBURSE

Egyptian writing systems also used pictures of objects to represent abstract words if they were pronounced the same way. Examples of such hieroglyphs could be found written on monuments, like tombs and obelisks, and on everyday objects, like ceramic pots. But also in 3D form, as the famous statue of Ramses II attests. At the rear is Horus the sun god (RA), who is standing behind a sitting child (MES) holding a sedge plant stalk in his left hand (SU). Put these three elements together and you get the name of this celebrated pharaoh: RA-MES-SU.

statue of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II

Centuries later, rebus pictures appeared on Greek and Roman coins to convey names of towns, on coats of arms for names of families in medieval heraldry, and for instructional purposes in religious art and architecture. One written rebus which arose in the 18th century is still very much in use today: the IOU, which is the literal phonetic spelling of the words 'I owe you.'

In case you're wondering, the images under the title of this word game form a rebus puzzle:


More Word Games