The Lost Art Of The Riddle

Riddles were once far more popular than they are today. There was a time when there was no Internet, no satellites and no Xbox. Entertainment had to be created and in every community there would be someone who was skilled at creating stories and riddles. There would also be travellers, who might earn a warm bed, or stable, and something to eat if they could entertain, amuse or scare a crowd.

The structure of the riddle is usually fairly simple and based on two elements. The first element is a general description that will usually be understood as a metaphor. The second element presents itself as literal but will also seem to be a paradox. The challenge is to understand the metaphor by decoding the paradox.

Here is an example of an old English rhyming riddle. Can you decode it and understand what object it is describing?

Little Nancy Etticoat
In a white petticoat
And a red nose;
The longer she stands
The shorter she grows.

The paradox to be solved lies in the last two lines. The question is; who or what is Little Nancy Etticoat?



Filed under Writing

14 responses to “The Lost Art Of The Riddle

  1. Vera

    A snow(wo)man?

    • James Coakes

      Hi Vera. It’s not but I can see exactly where you’re coming from. I think I prefer your answer to the one I have in this old book! James

  2. I know the answer. But I won’t post it for fear of ruining it for others.

    Hint: It might be more accurate to say she has a red hat, rather than a red nose.

  3. Anne Thomas

    No idea 🙂

  4. I also know but will hold off.

  5. The answer is… will send you a DM and see if i was right. Fun

  6. Think I know.
    I’ll have to come back and see if you illuminate everyone with the answer!

  7. Could be a lot of things. could be an old woman, as bone density decreases, or something else as stated above by others.

  8. dl101

    A little tricky, but cool…..or should I say hot!

  9. James Coakes

    The answer is a candle, although I really do like the snow(wo)man answer. More riddles soon!

  10. Vera

    Great! I love the English language! Want more riddles ))

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