Words in the News


Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Not many marriages last 70 years, but the Queen and Prince Philip reached that milestone on Monday when they celebrated their platinum wedding anniversary. The royal couple celebrated quietly with their family, but in a public act of celebration the bells of Westminster Abbey, where they were married on November 20th 1947, rang a full peal starting at 1 pm. The ten bell ringers of the Abbey and their conductor must be blessed with unusual stamina, because the bells rang without a pause for around three hours and twenty minutes. I don’t begin to understand the technicalities of bell ringing, but the full peal apparently consisted of 5070 changes or sequences, the 70 being a reference to the number of the anniversary.

The noun and verb peal have a number of meanings, all of which refer either to bells or to other loud sounds such as laughter or thunder. There is also a phrasal verb peal out, so we can say that the bells of the Abbey pealed or pealed out, according to choice. Bell ringing also gave us the phrase ring the changes, which is literally what the Abbey bell ringers did on Monday but also what we do when we change the way we do something.

Peal is a late Middle English word and is a shortening of appeal, perhaps in relation to the fact that bells function as a summons to prayer, both in the past and today.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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