The term dead ringer emerged in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. It's to do with horses. It does, I admit, have an etymological connection to bells. Bell ringers in churches like to ring out a series of patterns each one of which is called a "change". Therefore you got the phrase "ring the changes" and from that you got the false idea that ringing was to do with changing and from that you got the term ringer for something that had been swapped for something else. You then go down to the bookies, place a bet on a slow horse, sneak into the stable at night and substitute a fast horse as a ringer. Then your collect you winnings and squander it all on etymological dictionaries. Dead just means accurate, as in dead centre.
Yet if those two origins seem disappointing, if you think me a joy-killing sport-spoiler for debunking such lovely myths, then I have a wonderful wonderful treat for you. Do you know what a flying fuck is? Have you ever wondered or considered what this rarely donated thing could be?
Well mounted on a mettled steed
Famed for his strength as well as speed
Corinna and her favorite buck
Are pleas’d to have a flying fuck.
Luckily for us, Thomas Rowlandson was a cartoonist and so this earliest citation comes complete with an illustration. The illustration is, of course, pornographic so I have decided to place it discreetly after the jump break. If you have a coarse and depraved soul, click on "Read More".
WARNING TO CHILDREN: Don't click on "Read More" or you'll go blind.
WARNING TO THE BLIND: No point clicking on "Read More", it's a damn picture.
If you can't make it out, the rest of the poem goes
While o'er the downs the courser strains,
With fiery eyes and loosened reins,
Around his neck her arms she flings,
Behind her buttocks move like springs.
While Jack keeps time to every motion,
And pours in love's delicious potion.
P.S. The rest of Rowlandson's series of eight pictures can be found here.
P.P.S. There seems to be some confusion on the internet over whether these pictures date from 1800 or 1845 the answer is that they date from 1800 but were not published together until 1845.