Nerdful Things – Idioms – Saved by the Bell
Language is a simple yet, by the same token, incredibly complex human creation. Words with multiple meanings dictated merely by context, tone or the placement of the correct punctuation. I’ve often wondered about the origins of colloquialisms that I’ve heard or frequently find myself saying. Through osmosis, we inherit an arsenal of words and phrases from our parents and other family members as well as our peers. Sometimes, just sometimes, we even create our own words or even languages.
I’d been toying with the idea of writing about idioms, the deconstruction and the origins of them, for a while but lacked a good jumping off point. It was only after watching ‘Lore‘ on Amazon PRIME that I found my muse. The saying, “saved by the bell” inspired me. Having been born in the mid-eighties and growing up in the nineties, I always thought the saying was derived from the American TV show of the same name. ‘Lore‘ shook the foundations of my beliefs.
In the nineteenth century, superstition was rife. Along with that, came the fear of being buried alive. There had been cases where people, presumed dead, “came back to life”. Of course, this was not true and they had been improperly proclaimed as deceased. Taphophobia, the irrational fear of being buried alive, was the catalyst in invention of some intricate mechanisms should one turn out not to be dead so they could let everyone know they were still alive.
Patents ran from the nineteenth century until circa 1955.
The contraptions would often involve a bell and some form of pulley, allowing the “undead” occupant to alert those above ground. Hence the notion of being saved by the bell.
Some folks are not convinced. A more common, and more believed origin is that it is boxing slang and it came into being in the latter half of the 19th century. A boxer who is in danger of losing a bout can be ‘saved’ from defeat by the respite signalled by bell that marks the end of a round. The earliest reference to this that I can find is in the Massachusetts newspaper The Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, February 1893:
“Martin Flaherty defeated Bobby Burns in 32 rounds by a complete knockout. Half a dozen times Flaherty was saved by the bell in the earlier rounds.”
I, personally, want to believe the origin stems from those paranoid coffin-dwellers – perhaps that says more about me than it does the rich tapestry that the phrase has woven – but, considering I never even knew these contraptions were real and not works of fiction, it’s not too much of a stretch. But then again, there have been no documented events in which these contraptions actually saved anyone. At least I get to bust out my best Jud Crandall here and say…
Thanks to Aaron Mahnke for creating ‘Lore‘, a podcast that I am now eight episodes into (they’re nice and bytesized) and shall be watching episode two of the show tonight! I recommend you check it out if you have a fancy for the frightening, a penchant for the paranormal or a mania for the macabre.
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