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Google search doesn't tell me - it occurs in two George Eliot novels, from context I think it means "act cheerful in a disappointing circumstance" - does anyone have a dictionary of phrases/sayings that lists it?

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    Without context, I might have assumed an oblique reference to Oranges and lemons, ring the bells of St. Clement's. But having searched Google Books and looked at the usage in context, I see it's just a literal ring the [servant's] bell and have them bring us some lemons - to make (alcoholic) punch, get a little drunk, and forget about trivial or unsolvable problems. It's not a "saying" in any meaningful sense. – FumbleFingers May 30 '15 at 15:13
  • what the heck are you talking about dude?????? he's just saying "I'll ask the household staff to bring lemons". – Fattie May 31 '15 at 4:02
  • why would anyone vote to close this? it's perfectly reasonable (if simple). – Fattie May 31 '15 at 4:04
  • @JoeBlow exactly because it is simple, and the OP showed no previous research whatsoever. If Google didn't show anything for the phrase, bells should be ringing... – Mari-Lou A May 31 '15 at 4:11
  • I guess it is too simple. however it's surprising with the many terrible questions which sail through here. – Fattie May 31 '15 at 4:16
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In "Felix Holt, The Radical", the entire sentence is "I'll ring the bell for lemons and make punch." Given the upper-class nature of the speaker, this suggests that he will ring "the bell" to summon a servant, instruct the servant to bring lemons, and then make a fruit punch (alcoholic, of course) with the lemons.

This is supported on the next page: "Mr. Christian here let slip a lemon from his hand into the punchbowl with a plash which sent some of the nectar into the company's faces."

Fruit punch was often consumed socially at the time (from a Hogarth print, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punch_(drink)#/media/File:A_Midnight_Modern_Conversation.jpg)

enter image description here

In "The Widow And The Wife" the meaning is not so well supported, but I presume it means the same.

  • In Silas Marner, another upper-class character says "Ring the bell for my ale, will you?" and is in fact brought an ale in the next paragraph, supporting the notion that it's just a literal expression for ringing a bell to call a servant. – JMVanPelt May 30 '15 at 15:34
  • It's a great picture, but anachronistic: Hogarth died a hundred years before Felix Holt was published. – StoneyB on hiatus May 30 '15 at 17:06
  • Yes of course, obviously. It's completely commonplace. Someone at work the other day said "I'll ring the bell for tea". (Of course obviously there are no butlers etc these days or in an office setting, it was used humorously .. meaning, we'll send out for Starbucks, the secretarial staff will organise coffee, or whatever.) – Fattie May 31 '15 at 4:04
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It means nothing more than

"I will ask the butler to bring lemons"

It's just that simple.

I will ring the bell for tea, I will ring the bell for a pen, I will ring the bell for milk, I will ring the bell for a new shirt, and so on.

It's just that simple.

As I mention in a comment, it's totally commonplace to use the phrase, humorously, today. For example, a wife may say sarcastically "What do you think, you can just ring the bell for dinner?"

Any typical portrayal of "period" life features butler's bells. Eg, The Aristocats of Downton Abbey ...

enter image description here

  • I'm glad you agree that the answer is just that simple (X2) – Mari-Lou A May 31 '15 at 4:14

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