I was drawn to the phrase, “ring the cherries” in the following passage in Thomas Harris’ “The Silence of Lambs” in a part officer, Jerry Burroughs telling the profile of a suspect killer to FBI agent, Clarice Starling:

“Subject name, James Gumb. Jack got a beep from Johns Hopkins. Your thing - your profile on how he’d be different from a transsexual – it rang the cherries at John Hopkins. The guy applied for sex reassignment three years ago. Roughed up a doctor after they turned him down. - ibid. Page 322.

I assume the phrase “rang the cherries” mean that the profile of the suspect described by Clarice Sterling coincided with / matches the patient record of John Hopkins from the context. But I can’t find the phrase under the headings of ‘cherry’ and ‘ring’ in either Concise Oxford Dictionary (10th ed.) or Collins Cobuild English Dictionary (4th ver.) at hand.

What does “ring the cherries” mean? What is the origin of this phrase? Is it a common English phrase, though Google Ngram doesn’t carry this phrase either?

2 Answers 2


It is not a common English expression. It means to make a match or to find the answer, similar to "Bingo!" It comes from old-fashioned slot machines (gambling devices something like the Japanese pachinko machines). For those machines, a winning play showed a horizontal line picturing three cherries and at the same time, rang bells.

You are correct in your understanding. Johns Hopkins is a Medical Center and medical school in Baltimore, Maryland.


It probably comes from the old style of 'slot machines' Usually the biggest prize on a slot machine was the cherry, as each cherry on its wheel stopped in the winning position, a small bell sound was heard, if all 3 cherries were aligned another bell slightly louder and longer would sound.

Bells equals alarms, so it can be read as 'rang alarm bells'.

Its not a common term of phrase, but through general knowledge I knew what he meant. Mr Harris may be trying to make the reader think a little, or just trying to say the same-thing in a different way.

There is an entry in http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=rings%20my%20cherries for 'ring my cherries' if that helps?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.