1. a question or statement so framed as to exercise one’s ingenuity in answering it or discovering its meaning; conundrum.
  2. a puzzling question, problem, or matter.
  3. a puzzling thing or person.
  4. any enigmatic or dark saying or speech.

verb (used without object), rid·dled, rid·dling.

  1. to propound riddles; speak enigmatically.

verb (used with object), rid·dled, rid·dling.

  1. to pierce with many holes, suggesting those of a sieve: to riddle the target.
  2. to fill or affect with (something undesirable, weakening, etc.): a government riddled with graft.
  3. to impair or refute completely by persistent verbal attacks: to riddle a person’s reputation.
  4. to sift through a riddle, as gravel; screen.


  1. a coarse sieve, as one for sifting sand in a foundry.


  1. a question, puzzle, or verse so phrased that ingenuity is required for elucidation of the answer or meaning; conundrum
  2. a person or thing that puzzles, perplexes, or confuses; enigma


  1. to solve, explain, or interpret (a riddle or riddles)
  2. (intr) to speak in riddles

verb (tr)

  1. (usually foll by with) to pierce or perforate with numerous holesriddled with bullets
  2. to damage or impair
  3. to put through a sieve; sift
  4. to fill or pervadethe report was riddled with errors


  1. a sieve, esp a coarse one used for sand, grain, etc

“A word game or joke, comprising a question or statement couched in deliberately puzzling terms, propounded for solving by the hearer/reader using clues embedded within that wording” [Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore], early 13c., from Old English rædels “riddle; counsel; conjecture; imagination; discussion,” common Germanic (cf. Old Frisian riedsal “riddle,” Old Saxon radisli, Middle Dutch raetsel, Dutch raadsel, Old High German radisle, German Rätsel “riddle”).

The first element is from Proto-Germanic *redaz-, from PIE *re-dh-, from PIE *re(1)- “to reason, count” (cf. Old English rædan “to advise, counsel, read, guess;” see read (v.)). The ending is Old English noun suffix -els, the -s of which later was mistaken for a plural affix and stripped off. Meaning “anything which puzzles or perplexes” is from late 14c.


“perforate with many holes,” 1817 (implied in riddled), earlier “sift” (early 13c.), from Middle English ridelle “coarse sieve,” from late Old English hriddel “sieve,” altered by dissimilation from Old English hridder “sieve” (see riddle (n.2)).


“to pose as a riddle,” 1570s, from riddle (n.1). Related: Riddled; riddler; riddling.


“coarse sieve,” mid-14c., alteration of late Old English hriddel, dissimilated from hridder, from Proto-Germanic *hrida- (cf. German Reiter), from PIE root *krei- “to sieve,” and thus related to Latin cribrum “sieve, riddle,” Greek krinein “to separate, distinguish, decide” (see crisis).

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