Rings a bell

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Rings a bell is an idiom that appeared sometime in the 1930s. An idiom is a figure of speech that is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the definition of the phrase rings a bell, where it may have come from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Rings a bell is a phrase that describes something that causes someone to remember something, something that jogs one’s memory. Many believe that rings a bell is a reference to the pioneering work of Ivan Pavlov, who discovered the conditioned reflex in a famous experiment involving dogs. Pavlov rang a bell every time he fed a group of dogs. In time, he found that the dogs began to salivate at the sound of the bell, in anticipation of being fed. Pavlov conducted his experiment at the turn of the twentieth century, preceding the first known use of the term rings a bell by thirty years. Some do not subscribe to this theory, and believe that rings a bell simply refers to the universal use of bells to summon one’s attention. Related phrases are ring a bell, rang a bell, ringing a bell.


If that name rings a bell, it is because Elias just happens to be the Perkins Coie lawyer who got the dossier rolling by hiring Fusion GPS in April 2016. (The National Review)

His name no longer rings a bell with anyone but the die-hards, a fact even acknowledged by long-time UFC announcer Joe Rogan. (The New York Post)

A few weeks ago, while looking through a list of volunteers and people signed up to walk this year, Friedman came across a name from the past that rang a bell. (The Los Angeles Daily News)

Want to know more idioms? Check out some of the articles we covered.