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