Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Episode 101: Clear As A Bell Transcript


Click on Read More for the rest of the show notes

Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 101: Clear As A Bell

Record Date: February 22, 2021

Air Date: February 24, 2021



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Every week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from it’s entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

This week, we are going to get the point across very well, without confusion. You might say we are clear as a bell. 



Mirium Webster gives us this definition 

(as) clear as a bell idiom

: very clear 

Clear as a bell, 

I heard him say my name. 

It was clear as a bell that morning—not a cloud in the sky. 

The water was as clear as a bell. : 

very clearly

 (“(as) clear as a bell.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Feb. 2021.) 

In John Gower’s 1390 Confessio amantis, we find a simple and lovely use of the word clear. 

The first sterre Aldeboran, the clerest and the most of alle.

At this time, according to OED, the main definition for clear was: 

Expressing the vividness or intensity of light: Brightly shining, bright, brilliant.

This transitioned into a variety of both literal and figurative uses with the slightly altered definition: 

expressing the purity or uncloudedness of light; 

With the example: 

clear fire, a fire in full combustion without flame or smoke. 

It is also used with adjectives: 

clear white, clear brown

When we consider the word bell, we find an interesting correlation to the phrase As sound as a bell. 


c. In the phrase as sound as a bell. Also figurative of the heart.

1576 Levine Lemnie · The touchstone of complexions

They be people commonly healthy, and as sounde as a Bell.

In the 1670 work by John Ray, we find an early description of the phrase clear as a bell. His book is called: A Collection of English Proverbs: Digested Into a Convenient Method for the Speedy Finding Anyone Upon Occasion; with Short Annotations. Whereunto are Added Local Proverbs with Their Explications, Old Proverbial Rhythmes, Less Known Or Exotic Proverbial Sentences, and Scottish Proverbs

Ray lists a number of phrases in a section titled Proverbial Similes. The list includes 

As busy as a bee

As angry as a wasp

As busy as a hen with one chicken 

… and of course … As clear as a bell
with a notation: 

Spoken principally of a sound without any jarring or harshness. 

There are some online who suggested the phrase originated as clear as a whistle and then bell was added in later on. I’d like to explore that a little, as it was a fairly common question. 

Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word whistle is used in comparisons

For example: as clean, clear, dry as a whistle (often with play on other senses of the adjectives as seen in the quotes referenced) 

The first of the quotes shows up in 

1786 Robert Burns’ · Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect

Her mutchkin stowp as toom's a whissle.

We see whistle used with clear in 

1880 Letters by Asa Gray, who was a Botanist. 

My throat was as clear as a whistle.

These instances in which whistle is used show that it has also been popular in the last few centuries. However, there is far more evidence to point to an earlier transition to figurative or idiomatic usage for the word bell. 

Phenix gazette. [volume], October 03, 1826 (Alexandria [D.C.

The Ottawa free trader. [volume], March 21, 1845 Illinois

The Wheeling intelligencer. [volume], August 07, 1915 W. Va.

The day book. [volume], March 29, 1912

English Synonyms and Antonyms With Notes on the Correct Use of Prepositions : Designed as a Companion for the Study and as a Text-book for the Use of Schools

by James Champlin Fernald · 1914

In 1917 A Dictionary of Similes by Frank Jenners Wilstach, features a great number of similes using the word clear. These also cite the author or speaker each usage is attributed to. I’d like to read a few of these - mostly because they are just fun. But I also enjoy the wide range of usage and 



Evening star. [volume], October 05, 1949

A Quick Thank You


We want to give a quick shout out to our amazing Patrons who have sponsored today’s episode.

Bunny Trails is and will always be free. But we are only able to make this content because of the awesome support of our Patrons like Pat Rowe and Mary Lopez. 

Because of Pat, Mary, and many others, you don’t have to pay a dime to enjoy Bunny Trails week after week. But even though Shauna and I volunteer our time, there are still real costs to making this show, including hosting fees, equipment maintenance, domain costs, and more. 

And we turn to you, our listening community, to help cover those costs. To do that, we use Patreon, a service that allows you to support the creators and artists you love. If you are in a financially stable place, and would like to support this educational artform, we encourage you to check out the options at 

Find links to our Patreon and everything  we do at

Pop Culture and Modern Examples

2005 song by Rosie Thomas 

Clear as a Bell 

Here are some of the lyrics

And I know that time will tell

Clear as a bell

You were not the one

I'm sure I'll convince myself

To get over you

Maybe it will come

When the day is done

Wrap up...

This phrase is unique in that both terms - clear and bell - seem significant to the development of the phrase and yet, they both imply the meaning of the phrase on their own.

While all of these do have subtle differences, the theme remains the same. Something without occlusion, without flaws, without interruptions in its smoothness… any of these can be described as “clear”. 



That’s about all the time we have for today. If you want to connect with us, the best place to do that is on our Patreon, or on Twitter. We are bunnytrailspod on all of our social media accounts, but we are most active on Patreon and Twitter, so stop by and drop us a line! 


Becoming a Patron is a great way to support the show, but there are several free ways that could help us out, too. If you have a few minutes, leave us a review on your podcasting app, or on

You could also share the show with your friends. Helping other people discover the show is the best way to help grow your favorite podcasts. And the only thing it costs you is a few minutes of your time! 

Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 


Words belong to their users.

No comments:

Post a Comment