Ring Any Bells – Meaning and Origin


Hearing or seeing something that helps you to remember details about a thing.

Example: A detective is looking for a man named Jason. While he was speaking to someone related to the investigation, he showed them a picture of Jason and asked: “Does this photo ring any bells for you?”

In other words, the investigator was asking if seeing the photograph reminded him of anything

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. Call to mind
2. Jog one’s memory
Ringing Bell

Ring Any Bells – Its Origin

The origin of this phrase is unclear, however, there is one particular theory that stood out to me the most regarding it, so let’s go over it:

There are several kinds of bells that are used for a number of situations. Most bells, I would say, serve a similar purpose: They bring something to our attention or they help us to remember things that need to be done.  Let’s look at a few examples so you can see what I mean:

  • School Bells – These are rung when school’s about to start or when recess is over. The sound of the bell reminds students that it’s time for class.
  • Alarm Clock – These are used by people to help them wake up in the morning, or if they need to be reminded of something at a certain time.
  • Call Bells – These are used to alert an attendant that someone’s seeking service.

Perhaps, then, this idiom derives from a bell’s primary function; to alert or remind us of certain things. So when somebody asks: “Does seeing this ring any bells?” They are essentially saying: “Does seeing this remind of you anything?”

Anyways, the earliest appearance of this idiom in print that I could find is from the San Antonio Light newspaper, November 1937:

“Mariorie Weaver’s name may not ring any bells in the movie-going public’s consciousness now but wait until you see her in ‘Second Honeymoon.'”

Example Sentence(s)

  1. I’m looking for a man named Alex, does that name ring any bells for you? If not, I have a photograph of him that may jog your memory. And if that doesn’t help, then I have a video you can look at, maybe it’ll call something to mind. And if you’re still drawing a blank after that, then… oh, you’ve never heard of him before? Well, why didn’t you say so.

Note: Know Your Phrase has the meaning of hundreds of common phrases, sayings, and idioms! So if want to know what a particular means, explore the site and find out. You may also learn about its origin too.

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