Bats in the belfry, and other slightly mad idioms – Online English Lessons

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