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ring false

Also, have a false or hollow ring; strike a false note. Seem wrong or deceitful, as in Her denial rings false—I'm sure she was there when it happened, or His good wishes always seem to have a hollow ring, or Carol's congratulatory phone call really struck a false note. Ring false and the antonym, ring true, which means “seem genuine,” allude to the old practice of judging a coin genuine or fake by the sound it gives out when tapped. This practice became obsolete when coins ceased to be made of precious metals, but by then the idioms were being used to refer to other matters. [ Mid-1800s ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Historical Examples
  • The younger man began to ring false by failing to appreciate it.

    Lincoln Nathaniel Wright Stephenson
  • This is one of the very few scenes in Turgenev that ring false, that belong to fiction-mongers rather than to fiction-masters.

    Essays on Russian Novelists William Lyon Phelps
  • With much reluctance, this was done, though the words with which the request was received might well be thought to ring false.

    The Story of the Crusades E. M. Wilmot-Buxton
  • Our emotion should strike chords so strong and true that no minor dissonances of varying temperaments can make them ring false.

    The Choice of Life Georgette Leblanc
  • The words and phrases that had passed current on the street seemed to ring false here.

    Sandy Alice Hegan Rice

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