bel·​fry | \ ˈbel-frē How to pronounce belfry (audio) \
plural belfries

Definition of belfry

1 : a bell tower especially : one surmounting or attached to another structure
2 : a room or framework for enclosing a bell
3 : head sense 2a batty in the belfry

Illustration of belfry

Illustration of belfry

belfry 1

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Did You Know?

Surprisingly, belfry does not come from bell, and early belfries did not contain bells at all. Belfry comes from berfrey, a medieval term for a wooden tower used in sieges. The structure could be rolled up to a fortification wall so that warriors hidden inside could storm the battlements. Over time, the term was applied to other types of shelters and towers, many of which had bells in them. Through association, people began spelling berfrey as bellfrey, then as belfrey and later belfry. On a more metaphorical note, someone who has "bats in the belfry" is crazy or eccentric. This phrase is responsible for the use of bats for "crazy" ("Are you completely bats?") and the occasional use of belfry for "head" ("He's not quite right in the belfry").

Examples of belfry in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pietà, an 18th-century church with an iconic baroque belfry, and the lemon-yellow church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, built in 1679, are also nearby and worth a visit. Marianna Cerini, Condé Nast Traveler, "This Tiny Island Was Named Italy’s Capital of Culture for 2022," 22 Feb. 2021 Inland Cellular first tested OpenRAN technology in a lab, and later at the hotel, situating the gear inside a belfry-type structure on the roof. Washington Post, "A remote corner of Idaho has become the best hope for the U.S. challenge to Huawei," 29 June 2020 Alongside this work, a temporary floor would have to be installed in the belfry where Big Ben is housed, and the cost for the temporary floor and installing, testing and striking Big Ben would be approximately £120,000. Stephen Castle, New York Times, "Will Big Ben Chime for Brexit? It’s a $650,000 Question," 15 Jan. 2020 For the first time in more than a year, the belfry of the Leaning Tower of Niles is filled with — in the immortal words of Edgar Allan Poe — bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells. Jennifer Johnson,, "Historic church bells, new bells installed at Niles Leaning Tower," 1 Dec. 2019 Two bells that were previously in the belfry will be displayed at the ground level, the village said. Jennifer Johnson,, "Restored Niles Leaning Tower bells to return to belfry on Dec. 2," 24 Nov. 2019 Looking up, there was another 20-foot ladder, this one slightly more unsteady, leading to a narrow hatch opening to the belfry. al, "Alabama’s bells ring with history," 14 Nov. 2019 The blaze, whose cause was linked to renovation work, damaged much of the nearly thousand-year-old cathedral, though both iconic belfry towers were, luckily, saved. Christian Allaire, Vogue, "The Billionaires Who Pledged to Rebuild Notre Dame Haven’t Paid a Cent," 18 June 2019 Inside the 225-foot north tower, flames were beginning to lick at the wooden belfry, which not only holds its massive bells but also helps support the tower’s stone arches. Nick Kostov, WSJ, "How Paris Firefighters Helped Preserve Notre Dame Towers," 17 Apr. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'belfry.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of belfry

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for belfry

Middle English belfrey, berfrey, bell tower, siege tower, from Anglo-French *berfrei, *belfrei, of Germanic origin (akin to Middle High German bërvrit siege tower); akin to Old High German bergan to shelter and to Old English frith peace, refuge — more at bury

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The first known use of belfry was in the 15th century

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Cite this Entry

“Belfry.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for belfry



English Language Learners Definition of belfry

: a tower or part of a tower where a bell or set of bells hangs


bel·​fry | \ ˈbel-frē How to pronounce belfry (audio) \
plural belfries

Kids Definition of belfry

: a tower or room in a tower for a bell or set of bells

More from Merriam-Webster on belfry

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for belfry

Nglish: Translation of belfry for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about belfry

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