Bats in the belfry

Pin It

If someone has bats in the belfry (or is bats, or batty) it means they are eccentric or slightly mad (crazy).

A belfry is the top of a tower where bells hang (especially on a church).

Bats often roost (sleep) in belfries and one suggestion for the origin of this idiom is that bats roosting in a belfry will be disturbed by the bells ringing, and will fly around wildly. A person with bats in the belfry is behaving as though they have bats flying around wildly in their head!

Examples of use:

1. Our neighbour has bats in the belfry. Last week we saw him digging the garden while wearing a top hat and a wet suit.

2. Mrs Evans is a dear old lady, but I think she has bats in the belfry. Her house is full of junk she has collected over the past sixty years.

Other English idioms meaning ‘slightly mad’ are to have a screw loose, to be as mad as a March Hare, and to be as mad as a hatter.

I recently found a small second-hand book, ‘Idioms From Around The World’ (from Readers’ Digest), which lists a few idioms relating to madness from other countries:

  • Spanish – hear footsteps on the roof
  • Greek – for the festivals
  • Swedish – gnomes in the loft
  • Australian – a kangaroo loose in the paddock
  • American – out to lunch
  • Dutch – hit by a windmill
  • German – all the cups are not in the cupboard

I love the way these idioms relate so vividly to the culture in their country of origin :-)

Can you think of any idioms to add to this list?

Is there anything similar in your language?

Image © Sue Clark

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Pin It
Send to Kindle
Hi, thank you for visiting this site - I hope you've found useful content here. For more information about the site etc, please see my About page and my manifesto. I'm also The Botanical Linguist and you can find me on the brand new Botanical Linguist site.


  1. says

    LOL this certainly made me giggle, I do love the image of a man digging the garden wearing a top hat and wet suit! :)
    I also love reading the other countries idioms, I will try and remember them, especially the 'gnomes in the loft!' and also from someone who loves tea the – 'all the cups are not in the cupboard' is fab!

  2. Angela Boothroyd says

    Hi Anita,

    The man digging the garden is inspired by someone I saw a couple of years ago – I live by the beach and one day I saw a man wallking past my window wearing a wetsuit and a top hat, and carrying a big fish (a real one!)  :-)


  3. says

    oh wow, I have just found 2 new ones and I love them soooooo much already!

    gnomes in the loft
    a kangaroo loose in the paddock

    Hard to say which I will use more! :-)

  4. Angela Boothroyd says

    Hi Sarah,

    I love those two as well – and 'hit by a windmill' made me laugh when I first read it :-)