Commonly confused words: wringer and ringer

A wringer, also known as a mangle

In honour of International Women’s Day this coming Friday (8 March), I pay tribute to those who invented and developed washing machines, one of the great labour-saving inventions, freeing women from the hard work of boiling clothes in coppers, rinsing them and wringing them through a mangle.

Washing machines have become so common that it seems that the old-fashioned wringer has been almost completely forgotten. A wringer was device that basically comprised of two rollers, one above the other with a narrow space between them. Sodden clothes – ones that were wringing wet – were passed between the rollers turned, with considerable effort, by hand, in order to force excess water out of them and make them quicker to dry. Spin cycles in washing machines now do the same job. We may no longer use wringers, but their common use in households led to them becoming part of our language: we will feel wrung out if we’ve been through the wringer – or had every last drop of energy squeezed out of us. Except that it seems some younger people, who may never have seen a wringer or even wrung out something by hand, have confused wringer with, well, a bell:

From The Age, Saturday, 23 February 2019

For the purposes of clarification, this is a ringer:

A ringer is also a term used for a stockman, most famously in ‘Click Go the Shears’: ‘The ringer looks around and sees he’s beaten by a blow/And curses the old codger with bare-bellied yoe’. More infamously, a ringer (or ring-in) is a horse substituted for a worse-performed one in horseracing scams: Fine Cotton is a notorious example. Ringer is not actually used very often to describe a bell.

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Photos: wringer by DA Grimshaw on Pixabay; doorbell by Helena Yankovska on Unsplash; shearer by Franmedia on Pixabay

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