"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Monday, 6 July 2009

Ring the changes

If you are tempted to use the phrase 'Ring the changes' it is, quite simply, safer not to do so.

It's original meaning and the meaning many people now ascribe to it are different so your reader or listener is not necessarily going to know what you mean.

Nowadays many people take it to be an alternative way of saying 'making changes'. But it has its origins in bell-ringing where each order of striking the bells is called a change. To 'ring the changes' involves ringing all the possible variations of striking order and then starting again. Ringing the changes was therefore a repetitive act with different variations rather than the complete change meant by its modern interpretation.


  1. Ooooo! Never heard that one before! Am I just naive, or is that an English saying?

  2. Good question, Shabby Girl - I don't know the answer. Not sure if it is purely British English or not?

  3. The one thing I can tell you is that ringing the changes can be dangerous. Whilst bell-ringing on one occasion the rope on my bell left its wheel and snaked down over my head and when it tightened I was in danger of being hung and, but for the quick action of a fellow ringer, would have probably become one of the bell-ringing statistics.

  4. Reminds me of The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers - classic crime novel starring Lord Peter Wimsey. It involves complicated bell-ringing patterns and I don't think I ever quite "got the hang of it"(!) - but the book is worth reading anyway. My guess is the expression "ring the changes" is typically British.