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Which is the cosmetic used to darken and enhance eyelashes?


Riddles (Part Two)


By Jessie

This week we continue our exploration into the history of Riddles. In Part One we looked at the ancient origins of these tricky teasers and how they featured extensively in many forms of written works – including philosophy, myths and fables, compendiums of knowledge – even the bible.

From the 17th Century onwards, riddles became a popular form of entertainment among the wealthy, and were included as regular features in many newspapers and periodicals. Writers, poets and philosophers constructed riddles to provide literary amusement. In France, the great Voltaire constructed this one, thought particularly clever by his contemporaries:

What of all things in the world is the longest, the shortest, the swiftest, the most divisible and most extended, most regretted, most neglected, without which nothing can be done, and with which many do nothing, which destroys all that is little and ennobles all that is great?

The answer of course is TIME.

In the late 18th Century a new riddle game was invented, called charades. The word may be derived from the Portuguese charado (“entertainment”), the Italian schiarare (“to clear up”) or the Provencal charrado (“chat or chatter”).

Charades are solved one syllable or line at a time, by unraveling the double meanings suggested by the separate syllables, words or lines:

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!

Can’t you just imagine a dramatic Bronte-ish heroine posing this conundrum to her guests (no doubt the local rector, an admiral and a consumptive cousin) in the drawing room after dinner, while the wild winds whip across the moors and the ghosts of a thousand ancestors flit beyond the candlelight? Just me?

The (appropriately gothic) solution is HEMLOCK.

This type of riddle also appeared on the folding fans of the British Regency. The answers were sometimes printed on the reverse of the fan, suggesting that they were a flirting device, used by a young woman to tease her beau.

The nineteenth century saw the rise of mime charades, which became an immensely popular game at the social gatherings of the very rich.

Participants formed separate teams and acted out the syllables of a word or a phrase in pantomime. Mime charades often used highly elaborate costumes and props, and often were quite risqué in nature. Fans of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair will remember the sensational performance of the indomitable Becky Sharp, who acted the part of mythic femme fatale Clytemnestra with such “ghastly truth” that her spectators were speechless with awe and horror. (Of course, in the ancient Greek legend Clytemnestra murdered her husband Agamemnon so she could be with her lover Aegisthus;  it is implied in Thackeray’s novel that Becky also resorts to murder, poisoning Joe Sedley for money he has bequeathed her in his will.)

Here are six traditional riddles - can you decipher them? (The answers are at the bottom of the page – don’t peek!)

1. It has a tongue, but never talks,
It has no legs, but always walks,
Eyes it has, but cannot see,
It has a soul – but not like me.

2. I went to the wood and I got it,
And when I had got it I looked for it,
And as I could not find it I brought it home in my hand.

3. I tremble at each breath of air,
And yet can heaviest burdens bear.

4. At night they come without being fetched,
And by day they are lost without being stolen.

5. I’ve seen you where you never were,
And where you never will be,
And if you would be so inclined,
You could say the same of me

6. I went to the city, I stopped there;
I never went there, and I came back again.

Happy riddling!

Jessie x



1. A shoe
2. A splinter
3. The ocean
4. The stars
5. Your reflection
6. A watch 


8 Responses to

Riddles (Part Two)

kragzy said:
August 16, 2011 at 3:00 PM

Very interesting article Jessie, thanks. I guessed riddle #1 and thought DREAMS may have been the answer to #4 (which I think is also a valid answer). I couldn't get the others, but then I'm very limited in the extent of my lateral thinking!!

b0ad1cea said:
August 16, 2011 at 10:45 PM

Interesting coffee break article. Like kragzy i guessed DREAMS to #4 but I also managed shoe and reflection. I guessed hot air balloon for #3 Yes I know that was rubbish.

daffydill said:
August 17, 2011 at 12:04 PM

I guessed #1 and #4 correctly but thought #3 could have been a LEAF. This is a riddle I have always liked - A rich man wants it, A poor man has it, If you eat it you will die. Answer: Nothing

August 18, 2011 at 4:52 PM

I think I will stick to crosswords.

gm1951 said:
August 19, 2011 at 12:06 PM

Thank goodness we don't have to act out those older charades. I got 1 through 4 right although I can see the logic behind those people saying they thought #4 could be dreams. However, you can have a daydream so that would make the answer not fit properly. I did think #5 could be a photo or a portrait but upon reflection it doesn't quite fit correctly either.

Castra said:
August 20, 2011 at 6:56 AM

Jessie, very interesting. I am going to be teaching "poetry" to some primary students soon and will cover riddles. Any chance of you emailing me both part 1 & 2 so I can print off a hard copy?

anna12345 said:
August 20, 2011 at 5:34 PM

jessie whats the answer.

August 23, 2011 at 8:56 AM

Hi Castra, absolutely. If you send me an email with your own email address details I'll forward you a copy of the blogs. anna12345 - the answers are at the bottom of the blog!