Where did the term "Bats in the belfry" orginate?
Bats are, of course, the erratically flying mammals and 'belfries' are bell towers, sometimes found at the top of churches. 'Bats in the belfry' refers to someone who acts as though he has bats careening around his topmost part, i.e. his head.
It has the sound of a phrase from Olde Englande and it certainly has the imagery to fit into any number of Gothic novels based in English parsonages or turreted castles. In fact, it comes from the USA; nor is it especially old. All the early citations are from American authors and date from the start of the 20th century; for example, this piece from the Ohio newspaper The Newark Daily Advocate, October 1900:
To his hundreds of friends and acquaintances in Newark, these purile and senseless attacks on Hon. John W. Cassingham are akin to the vaporings of the fellow with a large flock of bats in his belfry."
Ambrose Bierce, also American, used the term in a piece for Cosmopolitan Magazine, in July 1907, describing it as a new curiosity:
"He was especially charmed with the phrase 'bats in the belfry', and would indubitably substitute it for 'possessed of a devil', the Scriptural diagnosis of insanity."
Though the term refers to someone being eratic or crazy, having bats in your attic is no laughing matter. They spread disease and can be carriers of rabies. If you think you have bats, schedule a pest inspection today!