noun pl. bel·fries
- A bell tower, especially one attached to a building.
- The part of a tower or steeple in which bells are hung.
Origin of belfry
Middle English belfrei from
Old North French belfroi alteration of
Old French berfrei, berfroi
; see bhergh-2
in Indo-European roots.
Related Forms:Word History:
The words bell
seem obviously related, but in fact the bel-
portion of belfry
had nothing to do with bells until comparatively recently. Belfry
goes back to a compound formed in the prehistoric common ancestor of the Germanic languages. It is generally agreed that the second part of this compound is the element *frij-,
meaning “peace, safety.” The first element is either *bergan,
“to protect,” which would yield a compound meaning “a defensive place of shelter,” or *berg-,
“a high place,” which would yield a compound meaning “a high place of safety, tower.” Whatever the meaning of the original Germanic source, its Old French descendant berfrei,
which first meant “siege tower,” came to mean “watchtower.” Presumably because bells were used in these towers, the word was applied to bell towers as well. The Old North French alteration belfroi,
which must have reminded Middle English speakers of their native word belle
), entered Middle English with the sense “bell tower.”
- (dialectal) A shed.
- (architecture) A tower or steeple specifically for containing bells, especially as part of a church.
- (architecture) A part of a large tower or steeple, specifically for containing bells.
Borrowing from Old French berfrey (changed to have an l by association with bell), from Middle High German bërcvrit / bërvrit , possibly from Late Latin berefredus, borrowed from Proto-Germanic *bergafriþuz.