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Is ringing somebody up exclusive to telephone use, or can it be used to say you made a call on somebody's person?

EDIT: Note that my question is specifically asking about British English; I would love to hear from an actual Brit the answer.

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and give him a ring means the same - unless you're proposing :) – JoseK Apr 25 '11 at 13:05
"Knocking someone up" has very different meanings in British vs. American English. – user362 Apr 25 '11 at 14:56
No one brought up knocking [somebody] up....please save the jokes for relevant questions. – Uticensis Apr 26 '11 at 11:39
@Billare: So, what do you require? Proof of residency? scan of the passeport? What happens if a Brit answers who is currently living oversea? – F'x Apr 26 '11 at 12:11
@F'x: I most certainly am that, and yes - I delayed this reply to give time to think of even a single instance where 'ringing someone up' might be used in meaning something else, I can't. If I were to post an answer then it would only serve to reiterate your point plus add my (in)experience as noted here. – Grant Thomas Apr 26 '11 at 14:39
up vote 13 down vote accepted

The Oxford English Dictionary clearly states:

ring: [trans., Brit.] call by telephone

The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary also says “to make a telephone call to someone”.

Though it's always hard to prove a negative, I've never seen it used for something other than a telephone call, and looking through some recent Google Books excerpts doesn't bring any other use either.

Answer Officially Sponsored by Mr. Disappointment, Britishness Expert!

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It may be localized, but 'ringing someone up' is used in the American mid-atlantic area to refer to the process of tallying someone's purchases at a store, eg:

I can ring someone up in this line. (said by a cashier who is unoccupied)


She's ringing someone up right now, but will be with you in a minute. (when you ask to see the manager, and she's occupied.)

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I can confirm similar usage in Southern US English. – Dusty Apr 25 '11 at 16:50
and in the Great Lakes area as well. – Dave DuPlantis Apr 25 '11 at 19:22
I can confirm this usage in Pittsburgh (I lived there 5 years)… but also that it doesn’t occur in the UK, in my experience (I’m a Brit). In the UK, the cashier (=*clerk*, for some US speakers) may ring up your purchases at the till, but if she rings you up, that’s a phone call. – PLL Nov 8 '11 at 16:15
Also California usage. Worth pointing out this tends to be anachronistic with modern cash registers, that don't ring. – Andrew Lazarus Dec 12 '12 at 21:30

It just means to make a telephone call. It is never used in relation to till operations, in the form "ring up". You might ring up some items, though.

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There is "ring the curtain up", which means to signify the end of something.

There is also "ring something up" on a cash register; it can also mean "to register sales".

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