Bells and whistles

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The phrase bells and whistles is an idiom with an indistinct origin. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will examine the definition of bells and whistles, some possible sources of its origin and some examples of its use in sentences.

Bells and whistles refers to the extras that are incorporated into an item, the appealing non-essential features, the extra trimmings. The term bells and whistles appears sometime in the nineteenth or twentieth century, it is assumed that it was in everyday use long before it was in written use. The term bells and whistles may have come from the various bells and whistles used as signals on locomotives, especially describing model trains and whether or not they came with “all the bells and whistles.” However, some believe that the idiom is derived from ornate organs at circuses or fairs. Still others believe the term bells and whistles is derived from the ornate organs employed at early film theaters.


And I don’t think that’s a fair way of looking at new construction projects on campus, some of which are necessary and include very few bells and whistles. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Besides the new basketball court and other bells and whistles, Yanney said one of the greatest assets the school has is its superintendent, Steve Peters. (The Sioux City Journal)

Hall performs with his band and guest artists on the show, which present the music in a live setting minus the bells and whistles that give so much contemporary music a prefabricated vibe. (The Sacramento Bee)

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