- charades, (used with a singular verb) a game in which the players are typically divided into two teams, members of which take turns at acting out in pantomime a word, phrase, title, etc., which the members of their own team must guess.
- a word or phrase acted out in this game.
- a blatant pretense or deception, especially something so full of pretense as to be a travesty.
- (functioning as singular) a parlour game in which one team acts out each syllable of a word, the other team having to guess the word
- an episode or act in the game of charades
- mainly British an absurd act; travesty
1776, from French charade (18c.), probably from Provençal charrado “long talk, chatter,” of obscure origin, perhaps from charrar “to chatter, gossip,” of echoic origin. Cf. Italian ciarlare, Spanish charlar “to talk, prattle.” Originally not silent, but relying rather on enigmatic descriptions of the words or syllables.
As we have ever made it a Rule to shew our Attention to the Reader, by ‘catching the Manners living, as they rise,’ as Mr. Pope expresses it, we think ourselves obliged to give Place to the following Specimens of a new Kind of SMALL WIT, which, for some Weeks past, has been the Subject of Conversation in almost every Society, from the Court to the Cottage. The CHARADE is, in fact, a near Relation of the old Rebus. It is usually formed from a Word of two Syllables; the first Syllable is described by the Writer; then the second; they are afterwards united and the whole Word marked out …. [supplement to “The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure,” volumes 58-59, 1776]
Among the examples given are:
My first makes all nature appear of one face;
At the next we find music, and beauty and grace;
And, if this Charade is most easily read,
I think that the third shou’d be thrown at my head.
[The answer is “snow-ball.”]
The silent form, the main modern form, was at first a variant known as dumb charades and at first it was not a speed contest; rather it adhered to the old pattern, and the performing team acted out all the parts in order before the audience team began to guess.
There is one species of charade which is performed solely by “dumb motions,” somewhat resembling the child’s game of “trades and professions”; but the acting charade is a much more amusing. and more difficult matter. [“Goldoni, and Modern Italian Comedy,” in “The Foreign And Colonial Quarterly Review,” Volume 6, 1846]
An 1850 book, “Acting Charades,” reports that Charades en Action were all the rage in French society, and that “Lately, the game has been introduced into the drawing-rooms of a few mirth-loving Englishmen. Its success has been tremendous.” Welsh siarad obviously is a loan-word from French or English, but its meaning of “speak, a talk” is closer to the Provençal original.