"to ring changes", sexual, 1736

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at MST.EDU
Mon Apr 5 01:06:14 UTC 2010

The 1736 sexual reference of "ring the changes" only partially concerns the variations involved. Also relevant here is (1)  the sexual imagery involved in bell-ringing and (2) the great exertion that goes into the British style of bell-ringing known as ringing the changes. 
(1) The sexual imagery in bell ringing needs no elaboration.  But cf. also HDAS (under "bell"):  "ring the bell" (meaning #1: "to induce an orgasm" and meaning #2: "impregnate a woman." Cf. also my article "Sexual Terms and Metaphors In The Blues," Part 1 (in Studies in Slang, Part 5, Peter Lang: Frankfurt am Main, 1997, pp. 73-126). On page 76 I present "bell" = "female genitalia" and "bell, (to) ring" = "to have sex."
As for the great exertion involved in change ringing see Glynn Mapes's article in The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 2, 1989, pp. 1, 14, titled "For Whom Does The Bell Toll If It Doesn't Toll At All? [subtitle]: The Art of Change Ring Is Dying Out In England."
The article mentions that change ringing originated in England in the early 1600s.  The scale of bells is first struck from the highest to the lowest note, and then variations are made on this scale, with each variation known as a change.  A peal is a series of 5,000 or so changes and takes about three hours. The ringing requires considerable stamina, since some bells weight more than a ton, and intense mental concentration is also necessary.  By contrast, the playing of tunes on bells in continental Europe is regarded by aficionados of changing ringing as childish.
So, the reason why the 1736 maid used the expression "ring the changes" seems clear.  A full-fledged orgy was about to get under way, and "ring the changes" conveyed in a cutesy way all the exertion/energy that would soon be expended plus, of course, most likely the exchanging of partners.
Gerald Cohen
Original message from Joel S. Berson, Sun 4/4/2010 12:56 PM
Subject: "to ring changes", sexual, 1736

Interdates OED2 1712--1763.  But casts a different light on the
meaning.from both Addison's 1712 "The Poet rung the Changes upon
these eight several Words" (under "ring v.2, 8.b") and the 1786 "To
initiate him into the art of what that gentleman stiled ringing the
changes; that is, ingeniously substituting a worse for a better
article, and decamping without a discovery" (under change n., 8.c, slang).

Boston Evening-Post, 1736 July 5, page 1, col. 2.  From the Political
State for April, 1736.  [EAN; _The Political State of Great Britain_
for 1736 is extant.]

"she invited these Guests home to her Master's House, where they
drank plentifully from 10 in the Morning till 4 in the Afternoon,
when Jane Andrews proposed to the Company (the Drummer, Chimney
sweeper and strange [that is, out-of-town] Woman) that they and she
should all go to Bed together; and thereupon she shut up the Doors
and Windows, and though 'twas but about 4 o'Clock in the Afternoon,
they stript, and all four went into one Bed together, (as the Maid
call'd it _to ring Changes_) and lay there till a Mob, hearing of
this Affair, surrounded the Door, and disturbed the happy Pairs"

What do slang dictionaries have for a sexual connotation?  Chapman
has simply "To make or try out variations, esp. ingeniously."


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