Making rebuses was an important step in the history
of writing. Back in the fourth millenium B.C., in a region called
Mesopotamia, the ancient Sumerians developed a system of writing
with pictographs -- they drew pictures to represent things that
they wanted to keep records of.
But drawing pictures to represent things is a
limited way of writing. You can write only about things that you
can draw -- like an ox or a bird or a fish or a plow. You can't
write someone's name or write about something that you can't draw
-- feelings like love or hate or confusion.
get around this limitation, the Sumerians started using pictures
to make readers think of a sound, rather than an object. For instance,
you can think of the picture on the left as an eye, or you can
just think of the sound that you make when you say the letter
I. In Sumerian writing, a picture of a hand, for example,
came to stand for the Sumerian word su, which meant "hand,"
but also stood for the sound "su," which could be used
to make other words. Using this rebus writing made it possible
to write about things that couldn't easily be pictured.
- I see you.
- A bee is easy to see. Katie is busy. I am
in a city.
- I'll be back.
- Can you come to a birthday party? Why not?
It will be a delight!