Bats in the Belfry

Meaning of “Bats in the Belfry”

The phrase “bats in the belfry” means crazy or eccentric behavior. Bats usually fly around erratically when they are moved. Hence, the phrase is often suitable to use if a person is running around aimlessly, thinking something out loud or he/she imagines if something is flying above their head.

Origin of “Bats in the Belfry”

The phrase “bats in the belfry” has an interesting origin as a belfry is a dedicated area in the church for having bells. Bats used to live in that area, in the past, and make bells ring. It is of English origin, but an Ohio based newspaper, the Newark Daily Advocate published it for the first time in October 1900 as: “To his hundreds of friends and acquaintances in Newark, these purile [sic] and senseless attacks on Hon. John W. Cassingham are akin to the vaporings of the fellow with a large flock of bats in his belfry.” Later several people used it constantly from 1900 to 1919 in almost the same meanings.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Bats in The Belfry by David Lewis Paget

The Church Belfry at Catherine Cross
Was known for its ancient bells,
They’d peal on out before Sunday Mass
And wake the monks in their cells,
The bellringers were a hardy crew
And their timing was superb,
But Joe and John, they didn’t get on,
And nor did the Bellman, Herb.

For Herb worked up in the belfry, with
The bells that he thought were his,
He’d tend the stock and the clapper stays
So the clapper wouldn’t miss,
He’d set each rope to the ringer’s height
To a fraction of an inch,
And woe betide if a ringer died,
Or another called in sick.

He’d call on down to the bellringers,
‘Go easy on those ropes,
You wouldn’t want to be stretching them,
They’re after all, the Pope’s! ‘
But John would glare at his form up there
And call up, between spells,
‘Don’t interfere with our work down here,
It’s we who ring the bells!

The narrative poem is about who rings the bell. The story opens with the name of the Church Belfry located at the Catherine Cross, where there are several tough and hard crew members to ring those bells. The three men work tirelessly. The most interesting part is, during the work, they are told that the real owner is the Pope. They frown upon that statement and try to reject the fact. Then they complain not to interfere. They also reclaim the ownership as they ring the bell. Hence, the Pope is not in charge of the belfry. Here, the men are compared to the bats.

Example #2

Bats in the Belfry by Bryan M. Long

In the peace of an empty temple
There are soft sounds to be heard.
Is it a Ghost of long lost Brother?
Or the sounds of an intruding bird?

The cooing comes from the heating ducts,
Some scratchy claws do sound.
Some three taps of little beaks,
For admission to lodge does abound.

Alas, the roof entry is open
For Pigeons to enter the ducts.
They reach a blind end and panic;
They foresee a death that sucks.

We need a young, fit brother
To climb onto the roof to fix
And screen of the building air entry,
And pick up the nesting sticks;

Then remove the grills from ducting
And take the dead birds, please.
So no more smelly dead pigeons
Will make us cough and sneeze.

We’ll stick to bagpipe music
Sounding through the grills;
And place around the intakes
Some pigeon diversion pills.

As our Brothers kneel at Altar
And listen for a cue,
They don’t expect to hear
A half dead pigeon coo.

They may be soft and cuddly,
But they leave a mess on floor.
They should wait a time with patience,
And give three knocks at outer door.

The poem is about saving wildlife. The phrase used in the title seems ironic that little mistakes of people sometimes cause deaths of the wild birds. As these creatures make temples and church their homes. The situation seems crazy as they divert the pigeons and attract magpies to hear beautiful songs instead of just cooing.

Example #3

Bats in the Belfry by E. C. R. Lorac

The story is about an author whose novels raise confusion in the London literary circle. However, when Bruce Attleton faces failure after two novels, his wife, herself a celebrity, leaves him to live a separate life. Suddenly, he disappears, leaving only his passport in the studio, named, the Belfry. Then the mystery starts which shows the meanings of the phrase as used in the title.

Example #4

A Bat in the Belfry by Sarah Graves

Set in the All Faith Chapel, this beautiful novel traces the mystery of the death of a teenager, Karen Hansen, who walks into its belfry is later dead. Then an amateur detective, Miss Jake Tiptree, shores up her resources to resolve the mystery of his death. In their search, they come across a lady, a newcomer. She seems to know something, but the case refuses to be solved. Hence the use of the phrase here means the confusing or a crazy situation.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “Joseph has been talking nonsensical things since morning, and behaving as if he has bats in the belfry.”

Example #2: “On a sale day, every supermarket has bats in their belfry.”

Example #3: “Rachel loves doing puzzles but when she gets people to solve puzzles with her it is always as if they are bats in the belfry.”

Example #4: “Alina wears such strange clothes for the formal dance as if she has bats in the belfry.”

Example #5: “Jimmy thought he had bats in the belfry because he was going crazy. He never wanted too many friends for his birthday party.”