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Canting arms is a technique used in European heraldry whereby the name of the individual or community represented in a coat of arms is "translated" into a visual pun or rebus.

The term probably originally came from the same root as the term 'cant' (originally to sing) in the meaning of slang or argot. Other languages call it speaking arms, e.g. in Dutch sprekend wapen.

An example of canting arms are those of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who was born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Her arms, shown in the gallery below, contain in sinister (i.e. on the wearer's left, viewer's right) the bows and blue lions that make up the arms of the Bowes and Lyon families.

An in-joke amongst the Society for Creative Anachronism heralds is the slogan Heralds don't pun, they cant, referring on making visual puns. ["Cant" is pronounced similarly to "can't".]

Rebus coat-of-arms

When the visual representation is not straightforward but as complex as a rebus, this is sometimes called a rebus coat of arms.

Examples of canting arms

Canting arms – some in the form of rebuses – are quite common in German civic heraldry. They have also been increasingly used in the 20th century among the British royal family.

Sources and references

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