rid·dle1 / ˈridl/ • n. a question or statement intentionally phrased so as to require ingenuity in ascertaining its answer or meaning, typically presented as a game. ∎ a person, event, or fact that is difficult to understand or explain: the riddle of her death. • v. [intr.] archaic speak in or pose riddles: he who knows not how to riddle. ∎ solve or explain (a riddle) to (someone): riddle me this then. PHRASES: talk (or speak) in riddles express oneself in an ambiguous or puzzling manner.DERIVATIVES: rid·dler / ˈridlər; ˈridl-ər/ n. rid·dle2 • v. [tr.] 1. (usu. be riddled) make many holes in (someone or something), esp. with gunshot: his car was riddled by sniper fire. ∎ fill or permeate (someone or something), esp. with something unpleasant or undesirable: the existing law is riddled with loopholes. 2. pass (a substance) through a large coarse sieve: for final potting, the soil mixture is not riddled. ∎ remove ashes or other unwanted material from (something, esp. a fire or stove) in such a way. • n. a large coarse sieve, esp. one used for separating ashes from cinders or sand from gravel.
riddle, puzzling question, specifically one that consists of a fanciful description or definition of something to be guessed. A famous riddle was asked by the Sphinx:
"What goes on four legs in the morning, on two at noon, on three at night?"
Oedipus guessed the answer correctly:
"Man—in infancy he crawls, at his prime he walks, in age he leans on a staff."
Samson's riddle is also famous:
"Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness"
(Judges 14.14). It refers to a lion he had just killed, on which he saw bees and honey; he ate some of the lion and the honey. Punning riddles are common, as:
"When is a door not a door?"
The answer is,
"When it's ajar."
There is comparatively little riddle literature, but riddles do figure prominently in Old English. The Exeter Book contains many English verse riddles of uncertain date; they vary considerably in matter. There are also many riddles in Latin hexameters dating from Anglo-Saxon England.
See A. Taylor, English Riddles from Oral Tradition (1951); H. H. Abbott, ed., The Riddles of the Exeter Book (1968).
Hence riddle vb.1 speak in riddles; solve a riddle. XVI; whence riddlemeree XVIII, fanciful var. of riddle my rede or riddle.
Hence riddle vb.2 †sift XIII; pierce with holes XIX.