Historically, a charade was a type of French riddle where separate parts of a word were hinted at and you had to guess the whole thing. That concept of figuring out a word is important, because in the 1840s a new variant of the game named "dumb charades" emerged, wherein people had to act out the word, instead of working with riddles. This got insanely popular in England, to the point where the dumb was dropped entirely and we arrived here with our modern word charade. Zooming back about four hundred years, we can trace charade to the Provençal word charrado, which meant "chatter", something that is linguistically connected to it all because of the wordplay involved in early charades. That's from the Occitan word charrar, which meant "to talk" and is listed as onomatopoeic, but could be connected to words like Spanish charlar and Italian ciarlare. I think it's rather ironic that a silent game's name has such talkative origins.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard College in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd