by Will Shortz
Word Ways, 1979


The first book in the world devoted entirely to wordplay, as far as I know, is Les Bigarrures et Touches du Seigneur des Accords (The Designs and Strokes of the Lord of Harmony), by Etienne Tabourot. I came across the book in 1973 while on a summer research grant to study the history of puzzles at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. I spent an afternoon with it in the Rare Book Room, taking notes which I have saved. The volume, first published in Paris in 1583, went through numerous editions during the next eighty years; the Library of Congress copy is dated 1616.

Several of the twenty-two chapters in the book are devoted to rebuses, historical and current, with sixteen examples in circular woodcuts. One peculiar but pretty one I copied involves a lifeless abbe in the middle of a meadow, with an exposed bottom from which is growing a flower. This unlikely scene sets up the following homophonic French and Latin sentences, which I translate:

Abbé mort en pré au cul lis
(Dead abbe in the meadow with a bottom lily)

Habe mortem prae oculis
(Have death before your eyes)

A simpler, if more grammatically-strained rebus is this from a broken lover ("un amoureux cassé"):

G, a, c, o, b, i, a, l

These French letters when pronounced appear to say:

J'ai assez obei à elle
(I have already obeyed her enough)

One more rebus, a classic:

   d   pour
G	       mes   a  a
   p   tenter

It is deciphered "G grand a petit,. d sur p, pour sur tenter mes a petits"; in everyday French:

J'ai grand appetit de souper pour sustenter mes appetits
(I have a great appetite for eating so to sustain my desires)

Spoonerisms evidently did not originate with the Reverend William A. Spooner, but were a popular game earlier with the French. Some examples of these, which Les Bigarrures calls anti-strophes:

Taster la grace / Gaster la trace
(Feel thanks / Damage the mark)

Elle fit son pris / Elle pris son fils
(She makes her prize / She values her son)

Un sinistre masle a un pigne sale / Un ministre sale a un signe parle
(A sinister man has a dirty pine cone / A dirty minister has a spoken sign)

Finally, a curious Latin couplet in which each word shares its end with the corresponding word in the other line:

  Qu     an     di      tri      mul        pa
     os    guis    rus       sti     cedine     vit
  H     san     mi     Chri      dul        la

The foregoing products of logological ingenuity are only a taste of the full material. Les Bigar-rures contains four extensive chapters on punning, eighteen pages of anagrams, and chapters on palindromes, retrogrades (sentences which make new sentences when the words are read in reverse order), chronograms, paranoemes (alliterations), acrostics, echo verse, verse leonins (poems in which the middles of each line are rhymed), vers couppez (poems in which each line can be split, with the halves making sense separately or together), monosyllabic verse, rhopalics, and more.

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