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For the birds

Posted by Henry on December 13, 2004

In Reply to: Re: This rings a bell posted by ESC on December 10, 2004

: : : "Run like the clappers.." apparently means 'flee in haste'. (I saw it in a Guardian story on volcanic lightning.) But for us old US sorts, what does 'the clappers' mean?

: : It has to do with the ringing of a bell.
: : Definition:
: : clapper - noun [C]
: : a piece of metal which hangs inside a bell and makes the bell ring when it hits the sides
: : (from Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)
: : SR

: For more information, search the archives under "clappers."

: In West Virginia, if someone was running fast, he was "splitting the mud."

I've never been persuaded that clappers referred to bells. It's plural too. I don't think that a peal of bells has ever been a particularly common sight - even bell ringers can't see the bells in the belfry. Individual bells don't swing very quickly, although a belfry appears a busy place when all the bells are in action.

Another possibility, though now archaic, seems to have escaped consideration. Country boys were once employed to scare birds from arable fields. They used wooden clappers, rather like castanets. Imagine the noise when the boys ran towards the birds shaking their clappers. This was once a familiar sight and seems an appropriate image for 'going like the clappers'.