TRIVIAL PURSUITS: From Where Did the Phrase ‘Be There With Bells On’ Originate

I or we “will be there with bells on” suggests attending somewhere with enthusiasm or arriving in a noticeable or festive way.

From where did the phrase “be there with bells on” originate?

While there are several speculative suggestions for how the phrase originated, there is one commonly suggested among several sources and also falls in line with the timing of the phrase being used.

The preferred means of transport for early U.S. settlers were large, wooden, horse-drawn (or mule-drawn) wagons. The collars of the horses or mules were fitted with headdresses of bells.

George Stumway, in “Conestoga Wagon 1750-1850,” states that the wagon-drivers personalized the bells to tunings of their liking and took great pride in them. If a wagon became stuck, a wagon-driver who came to the rescue often asked for a set of bells as reward.

Arriving at a destination without the bells hurt a driver’s professional pride, whereas getting there “with bells on” was a source of satisfaction.
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