1776, from French charade (18c.), probably from Provençal charrado "long talk, chatter," of obscure origin, perhaps from charrar "to chatter, gossip," of echoic origin. Cf. Italian ciarlare, Spanish charlar "to talk, prattle." Originally not silent, but relying rather on enigmatic descriptions of the words or syllables.
Among the examples given are:
My first makes all nature appear of one face;
At the next we find music, and beauty and grace;
And, if this Charade is most easily read,
I think that the third shou'd be thrown at my head.
[The answer is "snow-ball."]
The silent form, the main modern form, was at first a variant known as dumb charades and at first it was not a speed contest; rather it adhered to the old pattern, and the performing team acted out ...