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Bells and whistles

Posted by Masakim on December 05, 2003

In Reply to: Bells and whistles posted by The IT Man on December 05, 2003

: : Hi! How did the phrase "bells and whistles" come into being? What does it mean? Thank you, Sax

: I recall back in the early 1980s, if a computer program had features that were not core to the process, they would be described as being 'bells and whistles' - I think that at the time we understood it to be like a child's combined play toy in which added sensory stimuli could be added.

bells and whistles ... noun phrase
In colloquial use in computing, additional facilities in a system, program, etc. which help to make it commercially attractive but are often not really essential; gimmicks.
An allusion to the old fairground organs, with their multiplicity of _bells_ and _whistles_; the _bells_ of a computer are actually a range of electronic bleeps. There are more tha 600 microsystems on the market so it is hardly surprising that the manufacturers have taken to hanging a few bells and whistles on to their machines to get them noticed. _Sunday Times_ 26 Aug. 1984, p. 49
From _The Oxford Dictionary of New Words_
You look up at an angle of sixty degrees and see sweeping along the edge of a precipice, two-thirds up the rocky height, a train of red-and-yellow railway-cars, drawn by two wood-burning engines, the sound of whose bells and whistles seems like the small diversions of very little children, so diminished are they by the distance. (_Appleton's Journal_, 1876)
How the bells of Havana rang out the gRegina Coelih on Holy Saturday! All the ships in the harbor were decorated. Easter morning, all the bells and whistles helped to ring in the great feast. (M.E. Henry-Ruffin, _The Catholic World_, 1899)
Feel like a broke-down engine, mama, / ain't got no whistles or bells. / Feel like a broke-down engine, baby, / ain't got no whistles or bells. / If you're a real hot mama, / come take away Daddy's weeping spell. ("Broke Down Engine Blues No. 2" [1933] sung by Blind Willie McTell)
Atlantic in October 1982@A 1982 article in Atlantic referred to bells and whistles as
[bells and whistles] Pentagon slang for extravagant frills. (_Atlantic_, October 1982)
Congressmen, being congressmen, could not resist trying to attache all their favourite bells and whistles to the legislation. (_Economist_, December 26, 1987)