Bats in the Belfry

by Joanne Mason on October 25, 2015

Photo by Sgarton via

Photo by Sgarton via

It’s almost Halloween here in the U.S., so I thought it would be fun to explore some “scary” idioms. Today, it’s bats in the belfry.

I don’t know about you, but I think bats are pretty frightful creatures. I know they have good qualities. They eat lots of pesky bugs and spread seeds in the rain forests and all, but my two encounters with bats still make me shiver.

The first time, I almost stepped on the poor thing as the cat circled it and yowled.  I was brought up not to use curse words and rarely do, but the vitriol that spewed from my mouth that night was legendary. I woke up my roommate, who sat bolt upright, wondering what on earth the cat could be doing to make me shout expletives like that.

The second time, the fluttering of its wings woke me up – and then it hid when I turned on the light. I called a friend for support and with him on the phone, I gingerly nudged the curtains with a broom handle, bracing myself for it to fly out (like a bat out of hell).

But back to the idiom.  If we say someone has bats in the belfry, we mean that person is eccentric.  Some would say crazy.

Example 1

Doris swears it’s going to snow in Miami on June 19th, but I think she has bats in the belfry. 

Example 2

When the boss said we’d be working all weekend, we looked at him like he had bats in the belfry. 

The Oxford English Dictionary places the first recorded use of bats in the belfry around 1901, which surprised me. I thought it would be much older. Its origin is pretty straightforward, too. You might have seen bats flying haphazardly around a bell tower. If a person has bats in the belfry, his or her thoughts have the same erratic behavior.

I’m sure anyone who heard me swearing at that first bat thought I had bats in my own belfry.  He was probably just as scared of me, maybe even more. Fortunately, both bats were safely removed from the home, perhaps full of stories to tell their grandbats about their weird human encounters.

What are some of your favorite scary idioms?

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