Ring Any Bells – Meaning and Origin


What is the meaning of the phrase ring any bells? It means to hear or see something that helps you remember details about a particular thing.

Example: Jason and his friend were talking and eventually his friend asked, “Jason, do you remember our short trip to Los Angeles? It was well over a decade ago, so maybe not.” As Jason thought about it, his friend said, “Hang on, let me show you a photo to see if that rings any bells for you.” (In other words, the photo might help Jason to remember details about the trip.)

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 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.'”

Example Sentences

  • My sister was talking to me about an actor but their name did not ring any bells; however, after looking up an image of them on my phone and I recognized who they were.

Similar Examples:

  • Hearing the neighbor’s sprinklers helped to jog my memory; I need to water the yard today!
  • Seeing an empty milk carton in the fridge reminded me that I need to go grocery shopping.

Tip: Know Your Phrase has the meaning of hundreds of common phrases, sayings, and idioms! So if you want to learn about what a particular saying and what it means, then consider exploring this site.