Bells and Whistles

Meaning of “Bells and Whistles”

The phrase “bells and whistles” means including additional traits and features of things to enhance their beauty. It also when we add other attractive features using objects to make an appliance or a person look beautiful or different.

Origin of “Bells and Whistles”

The phrase “bells and whistles” has been in use during the 18th century. However, there is no printed form of the phrase. Also, the meanings were entirely different from the current usage. Then in 1967, a project manager, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is stated to have used it in current meanings. It appeared in a computer magazine, Computerworld, in 1976 in the current meanings thus: “Before even considering bells and whistles, a user should look at the plain vanilla system and see just how operationally sound it is.” Since then, it has been in the same use.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Come To Me Love Without Bells And Whistles by Viola Pressley

Come to me love without bells and whistles.
Come to me simple and true.

Come to me as your genuine self, not
disguised as someone else, that’s
all I ask of you.

Come as you are without the extra big
muscles and machoness.

The song by Viola Pressley is a direct message to his beloved as she expresses her expectations. The poet wants her love to come to him but without other additional things. According to her, the love must be simple and true. In fact, she means that her beloved should be an honest person and doesn’t have to pretend to be someone else. She also doesn’t care about his physical appearance. Hence the phrase ‘bells and whistles’ is applied to be true to oneself.

Example #2

Eight Hundred Dollar Shoes by Elton John, Leon Russell

You had your grand illusion and wrestled with your fate
The winter of your discontent came twenty years too late
If it was love and I was there I’ve forgotten where it lives
We both stepped off a frozen rock onto a burning bridge
You came like an invasion all bells and whistles blowing
Reaping the rewards of the fable you’d been sowing
I saw you cross the landing and descending marble stairs
Like Caesar crossed the Rubicon you seemed to walk on air

The song shows that the illusions of love or sensual love are long gone. The speaker wants his beloved to open her eyes to the realities of life. It has been a long time ago that she came invading his youthful period. He has compared his beloveds with Caesar who has crossed the Rubicon. The phrase “bells and whistles” has been used in the fifth line in almost the same meanings that when she has come, she has used things like make-up and jewelry to enhance her beauty to attract the speaker and others.

Example #3

The Art and Heart of Drum Circles by Christine Stevens

How can a facilitator be heard above a crowd of loud drums? Here’s where the bells and whistles come into play. Using a cowbell or a samba whistle, or playing their personal drum louder than anyone else, helps their voice be heard for musical facilitation cues. Not only should the instrument be loud, it should be unique. If you are the only one with a set of calves and you pay a cue, the group will respond.

This paragraph occurs in the book of Christine Stevens about music titled, The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. The book highlights how a musician and a singer make a good combination. Here he argues that a singer should make uses of bells and whistles to be heard among the loud drums. The phrase has been used in the same sense that he makes his music beautiful with additional features.

Example #4

Gifts – Buying a Computer for My Father by  Michael Delphy Hunt

We walked down a row that had over two-dozen different models of computers. The most expensive computers, the ones with all the bells and whistles, were stacked in such a way as to make them cheaper, less sophisticated models virtually invisible.

This excerpt occurs in the story of Michael Delphy Hunt. Here, according to the author, they were looking for the best computer and its accessories, which were expensive. The gift of the son to his father includes various gadgets that are “bells and whistles” for the computer. It has been used in the meanings of making it more sophisticated and facilitating.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “If you are used to dancing on the stage show, you know all the accessories and makeup are important. You can’t go without those bells and whistles.”

Example #2: “All the vegetables in the market were using fruits as bells and whistles.”

Example #3: “A modest clothing is the best way to dress up at work. You don’t need bells and whistles. It will be odd.”

Example #4: “While Anna was decorating her room, she started putting up a lot of posters on the wall. Her father didn’t like all the bells and whistles.”

Example #5: “He has been coming to the village with bells and whistles to make it look better by Christmas. So, when people see him, they dance and jump in joy.”


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