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

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 The 1,500-pound bell was hoisted into the belfry of the church’s steeple more than two-and-a-half years after it was removed for restorations., 21 Aug. 2021 The script is by an entirely new team (Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Ben Queen, and Susanna Fogel), and in some ineffable bats-in-the-belfry way the jokes now land with a more inspired and spontaneous creepy kookiness. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 1 Oct. 2021 In 1789, the church added a two level square brick tower complete with an octagonal belfry capped by a tall weather vane. Jacques Kelly,, 11 Sep. 2021 The bell was installed in the church’s belfry in 1819, a decade after the church first opened., 21 Aug. 2021 From the top of the bell tower on nearby Torcello there are sensational views over the lagoon to the sea on one side, and the famous belfry in St. Mark's Square on the other. Pamela Mccourt Francescone, Travel + Leisure, 13 June 2021 Nearby, Markt square features a 13th-century belfry with a 47-bell carillon and tower with panoramic views. Lea Lane, Forbes, 29 May 2021 The congregation was founded in 1840 and the church building, with its roofed belfry and tall windows, was dedicated in 1871. Washington Post, 28 Mar. 2021 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, 22 Feb. 2021

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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Last Updated

28 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Belfry.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 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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