Why not six bells? Eight?
February 27, 2007 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Where did the phrase "beat seven bells" (out of someone) come from?

I was listening to the excellent Guardian Unlimited Football podcast last week, and one of the commentators was talking about a recent kerfuffle between Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise, and he said that Bellamy proceeded to "beat seven bells out of Riise".

I've heard this phrase before, and I love it - but I have no idea what its origins are. My Google skills turned up nothing of consequence - does anybody have any idea where this comes from?
posted by pdb to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Could it be rhyming slang for "beat the hell" out of someone?
I know nothing, I'm just an American -- but I've never heard that phrase used here, so it's probably a British thing.
posted by katemonster at 4:03 PM on February 27, 2007

Seven hells, I thought?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:03 PM on February 27, 2007

Best answer: A Google search for "seven bells out of" led here. Search the page for that string.
posted by danb at 4:08 PM on February 27, 2007

Best answer: Like danb indicates, it's nautical slang. A four hour watch consists of eight half hour bells - seven bells is almost all the way.

The OED: "In Naut. slang phrs. to knock seven bells out of (someone): to beat (someone) severely; similarly, to scare seven bells out of: to terrify."
posted by zamboni at 4:20 PM on February 27, 2007

I've always heard it associated with the pugilistic sports (eg. boxing, etc.) and incorporated it into my vernacular as such. The nautical explanation makes a lot more sense. Thanks for asking the question.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:52 PM on February 27, 2007

Response by poster: That nautical explanation does indeed make sense...thanks for the help!
posted by pdb at 8:09 PM on February 27, 2007

I'd only ever heard of "seven shades of hell" which surely must be a related phrase. It seems odd that a 'blasphemous' saying would stem from a clean one, normally it is the other way around.
posted by meech at 1:44 AM on February 28, 2007

And I've only ever heard seven shades of shit. Color me seven shades of informed!
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:09 PM on March 1, 2007

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