Idiom: Ring a bellOED definition: informal Sound vaguely familiarExample: I don’t think I know him, but his name rings a bell
Blog in English Method To My Madness
It has been suggested that this saying has Pavlovian origins and dates from around 1934. Pavlov is well-know for his experiments using dogs, in which he would present a bell and a stimulus (usually food) at the same time. After a while, he presented just the bell on its own to see if the dogs had any memory of past events (in this case, being given food). I has therefore been suggested that when something ‘rings a bell’ it ‘brings back a memory’.
However, others argue that bells have often been used throughout history to remind people to do something, e.g. church bells to tell people to go to church and even the typical clock tower which chimes on the hour to remind people of the time. Although this may be a logical explanation, there seems to be every little proof to support it (it doesn’t have a leg to stand on… see what I did there…?)
One of the first published uses of this idiom was in November 1937 in the San Antonio Light newspaper:
“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.'”