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I've come across a confusing phrase.

This former Belgian possession is the most Christian country in Africa, boasting the highest percentage of churches per head of population, with 65 percent of Rwandans professing Roman Catholicism and another 15 percent adhering to various Protestant sects. The words “per head” took on a macabre ring in 1992, when at a given signal the racist militias of “Hutu Power,” incited by state and church, fell upon their Tutsi neighbors and slaughtered them en masse.

Though having some somewhat approximate guesses, I can't make sure what the bol italic phrase above exactly mean in this context.

Should I take it literally and come up with something like "wearing a death-resembling (horrible) ring"? Or should I consider any implications or metaphors?

Actually, I can't associate "take on" with "ring" in this sentence. Hence all the confusion.

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    To have a certain "ring" is to show the characteristics of: The name has a nice ring to it means the name sounds nice. The words “per head” took on a macabre ring is a way of saying that the phrase started sounding rather macabre (conjuring up images of death or serious harm). Ring here is not in the sense of a circular object; instead, think of a bell "ringing." HTH. – Kris Jun 20 '15 at 10:52
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The words “per head” took on a macabre ring.

The horrific and well-known Rwandan Genocide of Tutsi by their Hutu neighbours involved beheading among other maiming actions. A common tool to kill was the machete. In retrospect this event now ties the words “per head” to these killings instead of just a count.

Per head now sounds like death.

  1. macabre ring: a death-like sound;
  2. took on: acquired.
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  • This doesn't address the sentence A.K. doesn't understand at all. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 20 '15 at 12:38
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet I've added "Per head now sounds like death." – Bookeater Jun 20 '15 at 12:44
  • That still does not address the question at all. The question is about what took on and ring mean. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 20 '15 at 12:46
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet macabre ring: make a death-like sound; took on: acquired. A. K. is well-championed. – Bookeater Jun 20 '15 at 13:11
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The origin of macabre is unclear and the meaning is vague. Sometimes it means connected somehow with death, sometimes it simply means horrible as in your phrase.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/macabre

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