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Unring the bell

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 16, 2007

In Reply to: Unring the bell posted by Ringer on June 16, 2007

: Does anyone know the origins of the phrase, usually used in legal quarters, "you can't unring the bell" (i.e. that you can't make a jury/judge unhear what they have heard)? I have found a reference from a book in 1924 through Google Scholar. Any ideas?

You plainly know the meaning, and can easily see how the same point can be applied to numerous situations. A Republican legislator, for instance, has "accused" the Democrats of trying to unring the bell on Iraq. (I use quotation marks because I'm sure both parties would like to unring that bell, if only they could.)

If you're looking for the age of the phrase, that may be difficult. Perhaps 1924 is the best that you'll find. The several dictionaries that I have looked at don't even recognize "unring" as a word, although plainly it is.

Whatever the age and whoever the author, it is an inspired and memorable metaphor, and not yet, I think, actually a cliché.