Origin of the phrase "saved by the bell"

A friend is telling me the phrase “saved by the bell” comes from several centuries ago when people would often fall into comas and be mistaken for dead, and sometimes buried alive. To prevent this, a rope connected to a bell would be put in the coffin with them, and if they woke up, they would ring the bell to alert the graveyard workers that they were still alive. Thus, they were saved by the bell.

Now, being the fan of Occam’s Razor that I am, I find it far more likely the term comes from boxing, when a fighter getting beaten up would be able to escape the beating when the bell rang to end the round.

We’ve both been showing eachother cites for our claims, and nothing’s been settled. So, I was hoping someone on here could settle it for us definitively. Anyone wanna take a stab at this one?

I always thought it was a boxing reference.


No cite. No authority. Common sense. Boxing.

This site confirms boxing as being the origin citing “Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins” by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

I always thought it was boxing too.

I believe the expression does not refer merely to a boxer who is doing badly at the end of a round, but to one who has been knocked down less than ten seconds from the bell. He will be allowed to continue to the next round.

I seem to recall that some fights are declared as having “no saving by the bell,” i.e., the ten count will continue even after the bell, and if the fighter doesn’t get up in time, the fight is over.


Actually these days its more common to hear that “the fighter can only be saved by the bell in the last round.” Although I seem to vaugely recall Cecil mentioning something about the whole buried alive thing, but I’m too lazy to search.

In boxing, the ref if he feels the health of a fighter is in danger has the authority to declare the fight over.

People really did set things like this up, because of fear of being buried alive. I don’t know of any cases where it actually worked though, so it would be quite odd for an idiom to be based upon it.

Conclusion: Boxing.

Good luck trying to convince your friend of this.

Brandish this snopes at him: