saved by the bell

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saved by the bell

Post by Archived Topic » Sat Apr 24, 2004 3:37 am

What is the origin of the phrase "Saved by the bell"?
Jayna Legaspi - Phoenix,AZ
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saved by the bell

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Apr 24, 2004 3:51 am

From Atomica:

saved by the bell

Rescued from a difficulty at the last moment, as in I couldn't put off explaining his absence any longer, but then Bill arrived and I was saved by the bell. This expression alludes to the bell rung at the end of a boxing round, which, if it rings before a knocked-down boxer has been counted out, lets him get up and continue fighting in the next round. Its figurative use dates from the mid-1900s.
Reply from Leif Thorvaldson (Eatonville - U.S.A.)

The practice of being SAVED BY THE BELL in boxing became mandatory under the Marquess of Queensberry rules , introduced in England in 1867. However, the term SAVED BY THE BELL did not appear in print until the mid 1900s when it also became a figurative expression for being saved, as from an unpleasant occurrence, by a timely interruption. Today being saved by the bell is no longer generally in force and in the U.S., for example, different states have different rules. In New York a fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round. In California and in Britain a fighter can be saved by the bell in the last round only.
<1932 "Floored in the first session by a terrific right to the jaw, the BELL SAVING the Jersey boy at the count of seven."—'Ring' November, page 3>

<1954 "SAVED BY THE BELL, a boxer saved from being counted out because the end of the round is signalled."—'Boxing Dictionary' by F. C. Avis, page 98>

<1963 "If, in future, the bell interrupts a count, the count will continue until the boxer is counted out—unless he gets up in the meantime . . . The expression ‘SAVED BY THE BELL’ will, therefore, become an anachronism."—'Times,' 18 May, page 8/5>

<1976 G. "Had he been SAVED BY THE BELL . . . Was there still a chance of some lovers' games?"—'End of Web; by G. Sims, i. page 13>

Michael Quinion's World Wide Words

[Q] “The following is part of a longer piece that’s been making the rounds by e-mail in recent months. Is any of it true?
England is old and small and they started running out of places to bury people. So, they would dig up coffins and would take their bones to a house and re-use the grave. In reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie a string on their wrist and lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night to listen for the bell. Hence on the ‘graveyard shift’ they would know that someone was ‘saved by the bell’, or he was a ‘dead ringer’.”
[[Note: This is utter nonsense and is an example of a 'folk etymology' or 'urban legend' – a bogus story made up after-the-fact to fit the phrase. For tons of such nonsense see Also see posting 'folk etymologies.']]

[A] You may not be pleased to hear that all this is complete and utter hogwash, just like the rest of the article. It’s an example of a fascinating process (that is, from a sociolinguistic perspective) in which people actively seek out stories to explain phrases, not really caring whether they are true, just that they are psychologically satisfying. As a result, they are powerful memes, strongly resisting refutation. But World Wide Words is renowned as the home of lost causes, so I’ll give it a go.

'Saved by the bell' is actually boxing slang, dating from the 1930s. A contestant being counted out might be saved by the ringing of the bell for the end of the round, giving him a minute to recover. 'Graveyard shift' is an evocative term for the night shift between about midnight and eight in the morning, when—no matter how often you’ve worked it—your skin is clammy, there’s sand behind your eyeballs, and the world is creepily silent, like the graveyard (sailors similarly know the 'graveyard watch,' the midnight to four a.m. stint). The phrase dates only from the early years of the twentieth century. The third phrase—'dead ringer'—dates from roughly the same period or perhaps a decade or two earlier. I’ve written about it previously (see posting 'dead ringer,' so won’t explain it again.

So none of these expressions has anything to do with the burying of bodies.

(also see posting 'graveyeard shift and saved by the bell')

Ken G – March 22, 2004
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