What is the meaning of the phrase ring any bells? It means – to hear or see something that helps you to remember details about a particular thing.
Ring Any Bells – Its Origin
The origin of this phrase is unclear, however, there is one particular theory I’ve seen that is interesting. Let’s go over it:
So, bells. What’s the point of a bell? Well, they can help us to remember things. It’s like hearing an alarm go off on your phone—that alarm sound reminds us of something that needs doing. Let’s look at a few examples of bells:
- School Bells – A school bell ringing can remind students that school is about to start and they need to get to class, or that recess is over, among other things.
- Alarm Clock – The sound of an alarm clock ringing helps to wake people up at specific times in the morning. A person might also set an alarm clock to go off at a particular time during the day to remind them of something.
- Call Bells – If someone is seeking service, they might ring a call bell, alerting any nearby attendants.
So perhaps this idiom derives from a bell’s function to alert or remind us of certain things. Because when somebody asks: “Does this ring any bells?” They are essentially saying: “Does 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.'”
- My sister was talking to me about a certain actor. Their name did not ring any bells, but after I looked up an image of their face on my phone, I recognized who she was talking about.
- Hearing the neighbor’s sprinklers turn on helped to jog my memory; I need to water the yard today!