The Tower Handbook

4.4: Words and names

a: How did methods get their names?

Ringing tradition is that the first band to ring a method can name it. Over the years, the meaning of 'first' has changed a bit and it now means ring in a peal or ring a complete extent. In the early days, methods were sometimes known by different names in different places.

Many methods are named after the place where they were first rung, some after the person who invented them (eg Stedman), some have names that describe their structure (eg Plain Bob), and some names' origins are a mystery (eg Grandsire). Some names have changed over time - Plain Bob Minor was originally known as Grandsire Bob Minor because it was derived from Grandsire Doubles.

Some names have been changed by the Central Council where there were conflicts with how existing families of methods are named. The last part of a method name defines the number of working bells that ring it, see below.

b: How did methods on different numbers of bells get named?

The earliest method ringing was on odd numbers of bells, usually with the tenor covering. The odd-bell names are derived from the number of pairs of bells which can change places - Singles on three, Doubles on five, Triples on seven, Caters on nine and Cinques on eleven. Caters and Cinques (pronounced 'sinks') are derived from the French 'quatre' and 'cinq'.

The even bell stages are less obvious, but if we assume that in the early days Triples was the highest stage generally practised, then Minor might reasonably have been used to describe the next lower stage, and Minimus the lowest even-bell stage. Major is the next stage up from Triples, and Maximus was for over two centuries the highest stage. This leaves Royal as the odd one out. One possible explanation is that the word is borrowed from nautical terminology, where royal was used to denote a sail at the very top of the mast, even on an extension to the mast.

With the development of method ringing on higher numbers, odd-bell terminology has been extended (Sextuples for thirteen bells, Septuples for fifteen etc). But what follows Maximus for even numbers? Although ringers found they could manage to ring methods on fourteen, sixteen and even up to twenty-two, they failed to come up with names other than the number of bells which were changing. Thus we have Plain Bob Fourteen, Bristol Surprise Sixteen, and Little Bob Twenty-Two. Pedantically these are 'Fourteen-in', etc., but many ringers use the shorter form.

c: What is the origin of the word belfry?

Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with bells. Originally a belfry was either a portable wooden siege-tower, a shed for the protection of cattle, or a watch-tower with beacon, in which capacity it may have had a bell.

d: What is the origin of sally?

Originally the word described the action of the rope jumping up at the handstroke, from the old French word sauler. In modern French 'sauter' means 'to jump'. Later the word was applied to the fluffy woolly part of the rope added to make it easier to hold the rope on the 'jumping stroke'.

e: Why is ringing called 'the exercise'?

In the 17th century, the young gentry took up ringing for the benefit of the exercise it gave, and the name has been perpetuated. In some old houses, eg Knole in Kent, you can still see the 'dumb bells' they installed in their houses so they could continue the exercise at home. Dumb bells had pairs of heavy metal balls on the end of bars to simulate the inertia of the bell. These were attached to the ends of a rotating drum around which the rope wound as the dumb bell turned. This is the origin of the term dumb bells as used for weight lifting.

f: Why is a bob so called?

Bob was the original name for a dodge. Perhaps a 'bob call' was one that introduced an extra bob (ie dodge), as in Grandsire Doubles.

g: Why is a single so called?

Singles were first used to produce the extent of Grandsire Doubles. They get their name because they involve a single change (ie one with only a single pair of bells swapping place) instead of two everywhere else. A single in Plain Bob Minor also uses a single change, but when both methods are extended to more bells although the single retains its name, it is no longer a single change. In terms of the effect on the coursing order (see section 13.9i) a single always affects two bells, rather than three at a bob.

h: Why is a touch so called?

A small amount of anything can be called a touch (eg a touch of paint) so the word is used to indicate a short piece of ringing. By convention, a touch is shorter than a peal and (usually) longer than a plain course.

i: Why is the tenor not called the bass?

We are not sure. Perhaps it originated with the use of the word tenor to mean setting the tone or key note of a piece of music. Does anyone know better?

j: What is the difference between a guild and an association?

In practical terms none. The same goes for a society. What different bodies called themselves was probably the whim of the founders, but there is some pattern. For example territorial bodies who define their area by diocese are more likely to be guilds while those defined by civil boundaries are more likely to be associations. Non territorial bodies are likely to be guilds or societies. Paradoxically the small number of bodies calling themselves youths are all old organisations.

This table is drawn from Central Council membership lists and information in The Ringing World Diary . It may not include all non affiliated bodies, and no designations were given for many university bodies.

Association Guild Society Youths Unknown
Ecclesiastical area (diocese, archdeaconry) 7 18 1
Civil area (county, district, country) 24 11 7 2
University 1 4 10 1 18
Other 13 6 3

Distribution of names of ringing organisations

k: Why do ringers use 'over' and 'under' for 'before' and 'after'?

Ringers use a lot of strange jargon [22]. A novice expects to hear new words, but it is perhaps more confusing to hear normal words given new meanings. Sometimes, you can find a connection if you think hard enough. Using 'up' and 'down' appear to have no connection with earlier or later, but think about the related terms. At the instant when you 'hold up' 'over' another bell (ie wait to ring after it) your rope is actually higher than the other bell's, so there is a connection after all.


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