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

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 Once a schoolhouse built in 1796, the building originally boasted a belfry and was moved to its current location sometime in the 1850s. Megan Barber, Curbed, "Historic school house built in 1796 asks $450K," 11 Oct. 2018 His only friends are the statues and gargoyles in the belfry, who come to life in his mind. Theodore P. Mahne,, "JPAS 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' rings out with extravagance," 27 Feb. 2018 The church belfry in Herxheim now joins a number of other German sites with some Nazi affiliation that have been converted to a makeshift memorial. Amy B Wang, Washington Post, "German village votes to keep bell inscribed with ‘Everything for the Fatherland, Adolf Hitler’," 27 Feb. 2018 Apparently intended to eventually have twin belfries and a domed roof, the chapel was never completed and today is a mere skeleton that sits open to the elements. Robert Kolarik, San Antonio Express-News, "Alamo defenders lacking water," 23 Feb. 2018 The belfry of Cagsawa’s stone church still juts from the ground in an eerie reminder of Mayon’s fury. Time, "The Philippines' Most Active Volcano Is Spewing Fountains of Lava Two Miles Away," 23 Jan. 2018 The belfry of Cagsawa’s stone church still juts out from the ground in an eerie reminder of Mayon’s fury. Jim Gomez, The Seattle Times, "Philippine volcano explodes, villagers flee back to shelters," 22 Jan. 2018

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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Statistics for belfry

Last Updated

24 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for belfry

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

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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

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More from Merriam-Webster on belfry

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for belfry

Spanish Central: Translation of belfry

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

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