Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In the form most commonly played today, it is an acting game in which one player acts out a word or phrase, often by pantomiming similar-sounding words, and the other players guess the word or phrase. The idea is to use physical rather than verbal language to convey the meaning to another party.
Though less commonly used nowadays, a charade was originally also used to indicate a form of linguistic riddle which the listener must guess the meaning of, either through verse or through prose, often syllable by syllable.
Charades are reportedly to have originated in France in the 18th century, and later spread across Europe and around the world. Early charades involved the use of elaborate verbal riddles to guess each syllable of a chosen word or phrase, as in Jane Austen's Emma. One famous composer of such charades is Winthrop Mackworth Praed. An example of this form of charade, taken from an early American magazine in 1834, goes like this:
- "My first, tho water, cures no thirst,
- My next alone has soul,
- And when he lives upon my first,
- He then is called my whole."
The answer to this charade is "sea-man". Another, composed by Jane Austen herself, is this:
- When my first is a task to a young girl of spirit,
- And my second confines her to finish the piece,
- How hard is her fate! but how great is her merit
- If by taking my whole she effects her release!
The answer is "hem-lock".
The acted charades gradually became far more popular under this name, particularly in the United States. Examples of the acted charades are described in William Thackeray's Vanity Fair and in Charlotte Brontė's Jane Eyre.
In France, nowadays, the charade is only a riddle like the one above ; it is not acted.
Rules of the Acted Charade
The rules of the acted charades used vary widely and informally, but in its most common form the players divide into two teams. One team member is selected to be the pantomime, is provided with a randomly selected word or phrase in secret (usually on a slip of paper drawn from a container), and then has a limited period of time in which to convey this to his teammates. The teams alternate until each team member has had an opportunity to pantomime.
A number of standard signals have come into common usage in charades. To indicate the general category of a word or phrase:
- Stand with hands on hips.
- Book title
- Unfold your hands as if they were a book.
- Play title
- Pretend to pull the rope that opens a theater curtain.
- Song title
- Pretend to sing.
- TV show
- Draw a rectangle to outline the TV screen.
- Quote or phrase
- Make quotation marks in the air with your fingers.
- Make a circle with one hand, then point to it, as if pointing to a dot on a map.
To indicate other characteristics of the word or phrase:
- Number of words in the title
- Hold up the number of fingers.
- Which word you're working on
- Hold up the number of fingers again.
- Number of syllables in the word
- Lay the number of fingers on your arm.
- Which syllable you're working on
- Lay the number of fingers on your arm again.
- Length of word
- Make a "little" or "big" sign as if you were measuring a fish.
- "The entire concept"
- Sweep your arms through the air.
- "On the nose" (i.e., someone has made a correct guess)
- Point at your nose with one hand, while pointing at the person with your other hand.
- "Sounds like"
- Cup one hand behind an ear, or pull on your earlobe.
- "Longer version of"
- Pretend to stretch a piece of elastic.
- "Shorter version of"
- Do a "karate chop" with your hand.
- Link your little fingers.
- "Proper Name"
- Tap the top of your head with an open palm.
- "Past tense"
- Wave your hand over your shoulder toward your back.
- A letter of the alphabet
- Move your hand in a chopping motion toward your arm (near the top of your forearm if the letter is near the beginning of the alphabet, and near the bottom of your arm if the letter is near the end of the alphabet).
- A color
- Point to your tongue, then point to an object of the color you're trying to convey.
- "Close, keep guessing!"
- Frantically wave your hands about to keep the guesses coming.
- "Not even close, I'll start over"
- Wave hand in a wide sweep, as if to say: "go away!"
- "The opposite" or "the antonym of what you are saying"
- Form each hand into a hitchhiker's thumb signal, then with the backs of the hands facing away from you, cross your forearms and make the thumbs travel in opposing directions, thus "opposite".
- "Stop, work on something else"
- Hold both arms out in front of you, palms of your hands facing your teammates.
Some conventions have also evolved about very common words:
- "A" is signed by steepling index fingers together. Following it with either the stretching rubber band sign or "close, keep guessing!" sign, will often elicit "an" and "and". (sometimes "and" is signed by pointing at ones palm with the index finger)
- "I" is signed by pointing at one's eye, or one's chest.
- "the" is signed by making a "T" sign with the index fingers. The "close, keep guessing!" sign will then usually elicit a rigmarole of other very common words starting with "th".
- "That" is signed by the same aforementioned "T" with the index fingers and immediately followed by one flattened hand tapping the head for a "hat", thus the combination becoming "that".
- Other common small words are signed by holding the index finger and thumb close together, but not touching.
Note that these signals are standardized by general consensus only, and may vary somewhat from place to place.
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