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Nōn Verbīs Sed Rēbus

The Latin word rēbus, which means “by things,” became nōn verbīs sed rēbus—“not by words but by things.” The rebus principle involves the use of symbols and pictograms for their sounds regardless of their meaning, to represent new words. The rebus principle has been applied to represent abstract phrases:

An example that illustrates the rebus principle is the representation of the sentence “I can see you” by using the pictographs of “eye—can—sea—ewe.” Some linguists believe that the Chinese developed their writing system according to the rebus principle, and Egyptian hieroglyphs sometimes used a similar system.

These rebuses are Italian, but the principle is universal. Look closely and you may see the origins of Futurist parole in liberta (words in freedom) typography.




For more Steven Heller, check out The Education of an Illustrator, one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.

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