What does the expression “rings a bell” mean and Where does “to ring a bell” originate?

The expression “rings a bell” means: To start a train of recollection; to strike a familiar chord; also, to appeal to one, to strike one’s fancy.

Partridge, in A Dictionary of Slang, says that this is from “the bell that rings when, at a shooting gallery, a marksman hits the bull’s-eye.”

We don’t agree with that. In our opinion, this expression, with its indefinite article, is of nostalgic birth, relating rather to memories or responses evoked by the church bell or the school bell.

Had he specified the American expression, “to ring the bell,” always with the definite article, we could agree.

That expression indicates success in one form or another; as, in a commercial transaction, to make a sale or obtain an order for goods; in law, to win a case; in games, to make a high score; in sports, to win; on the turf, to finish first; in gambling, to win a bet; in one’s studies, to pass an examination.

These all spring from target shooting.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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