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What is leg and bells mean in the phrase "pull the other one, it's got bells on"

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    The meaning is given in any number of online dictionaries, and The Phrase Finder discusses the expression's origins. Dec 20, 2019 at 10:57
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    @EdwinAshworth - do you think that “sicava” a foreign new user is familiar with “The Phrase Finder” and if it is a reliable source?
    – user 66974
    Dec 20, 2019 at 12:39
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    @user067531 It's one of the basic research tools that users are expected to consult before asking a question on ELU. It's the go-to resource for phrase meanings and etymologies. // ELL was established especially with second-language users in mind, so that basic / easily (for linguists, more advanced users) researched questions would not appear on ELU. There are many websites devoted to helping with more basic questions; why shouldn't there be just one for more advanced users? Dec 20, 2019 at 12:44
  • Related: "Why does someone “pull my leg”?".
    – JEL
    Nov 7, 2020 at 4:53
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    Does this answer your question? Why does someone "pull my leg"?
    – JEL
    Nov 12, 2020 at 19:47

2 Answers 2

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"Pulling one's leg" is an idiom which means teasing, or joking with someone, specifically by telling them something that is not true. You might reveal to someone that you were kidding about something by saying "I was only pulling your leg".

The phrase "pull the other one, it's got bells on" is said by people when they recognise that someone is joking with them. The inference is that they should pull the other leg, because it has bells attached to it and will make a jangling sound.

The origins of "pulling one's leg" are unconfirmed and there are a number of possible origin stories but according to the cited article it appeared in print at least as early as 1883.

The idea of a leg having bells attached is a reference to either Morris Dancing, or more likely medieval jesters, who attach bells to their ankles as part of their act.

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    I read it as I know you're pulling my leg, try pulling the other one, it's got bells on it, as a counter (non-serious) leg-pull to suggest that they are gullible enough to believe that you actually have bells on the other leg. I see your leg-pull, and raise you my own
    – Smock
    Dec 20, 2019 at 10:54
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    @AndyT Your parsing doesn't really make any sense, when you think about it. There is basis for someone being "made a fool of" having bells on their leg, as jesters (or "fools") did. I don't see how a joke could have bells? But I'd be interested in anything you can show to support that idea.
    – Astralbee
    Dec 20, 2019 at 12:07
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    @Astralbee - No chance of me finding anything to support my idea! As you say, it makes no sense. I'd just never realised how little sense my parsing made!
    – AndyT
    Dec 20, 2019 at 14:56
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    @jel I've revised that to the earliest confirmed date of 1883.
    – Astralbee
    Nov 6, 2020 at 8:42
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    @Astralbee I was born in Derbyshire in 1949 and I can remember "pull the other one it's got bells on" from the late '50s. When I got old enough to think about it I assumed, as you say, that it came from jesters (or fools) wearing bells on their legs. The idea that "the other leg" had bells on would suggest that another part of me might be gullible but the part that's talking has seen through you. By the way Morris sides have 'fools' who are really good dancers and act as clowns.
    – BoldBen
    Nov 6, 2020 at 9:59
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I'm pretty sure this phrase has a Biblical origin. In Genesis, Jacob and Esau were born twin brothers. Esau was the first born, but Jacob came close behind grabbing Esau by the heel. The Bible states, "And so they called him Jacob which means 'He grabs the heel' or literally 'He deceives'." It must have had a double meaning in their language. Jacob did live up to the name by later deceiving their father Isaac to steal the birthright from Esau. With the influence Christianity has had on western nations, I think people were familiar with this story and used this phrase to indicated someone's deception.

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