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  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.

Origin of riddle1

before 1000; Middle English redel, redels (noun), Old English rǣdels(e) counsel, opinion, imagination, riddle (rǣd(an) to counsel, rede + -els(e) deverbal noun suffix) with loss of -s- in ME through confusion with the plural form of the noun suffix -el -le (cf. burial); cognate with German Rätsel, Dutch raadsel


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1. See puzzle.


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.

Origin of riddle2

before 1100; (noun) Middle English riddil, Old English hriddel, variant of hridder, hrīder; cognate with German Reiter; akin to Latin crībrum sieve; (v.) Middle English ridlen to sift, derivative of the noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for riddled

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • The meteors that riddled the ship were projectiles shot from their station on Jupiter.

    Pirates of the Gorm

    Nat Schachner

  • The bullet and the moth have torn And riddled well the dolmans dim.

  • He could not possibly have escaped with his life, Blake said; he must have been riddled with bullets.

    Whispering Smith

    Frank H. Spearman

  • Had I obeyed my own impulse, I should have been riddled like any colander.


    David Christie Murray

  • Washington's clothes had been riddled by bullets, but he had escaped injury.

British Dictionary definitions for riddled


  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
Derived Formsriddler, noun

Word Origin

Old English rǣdelle, rǣdelse, from rǣd counsel; related to Old Saxon rādislo, German Rätsel


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
Derived Formsriddler, noun

Word Origin

Old English hriddel a sieve, variant of hridder; related to Latin crībrum sieve
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for riddled



"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).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper