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to warm the bell


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A phrase used in the British Navy during the days of sail meaning to do something unjustifiably, or unnecessarily, early. On board warships in the days of sail, time was measured by a half-hour sand-glass. Each time the sand ran through, the glass was turned, usually by the midshipman of the watch, and the appropriate number of bells struck on the ship's bell. It was supposed, perhaps rightly, that if the glass were warmed the expansion of the neck would allow the sand to run through a little more quickly. Hence the idea that if midshipmen of night watches put the glass under their coats and grasped it tightly, eight bells, and the return to one's hammock, would come gratifyingly earlier than it should.

Subjects: Maritime History.


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