[13] Etymologically, belfry has nothing to do with bells; it was a chance similarity between the two words that led to belfry being used from the 15th century onwards for ‘bell-tower’. The original English form was berfrey, and it meant ‘movable seige-tower’. It came from Old French berfrei, which in turn was borrowed from a hypothetical Frankish *bergfrith, a compound whose two elements mean respectively ‘protect’ (English gets bargain, borough, borrow, and bury from the same root) and ‘peace, shelter’ (hence German friede ‘peace’); the underlying sense of the word is thus the rather tautological ‘protective shelter’. A tendency to break down the symmetry between the two rs in the word led in the 15th century to the formation of belfrey in both English and French (l is phonetically close to r), and at around the same time we find the first reference to it meaning ‘bell-tower’, in Promptorium parvulorum 1440, an early English-Latin dictionary: ‘Bellfray, campanarium’. => AFFRAY, BARGAIN, BORROW, BOROUGH, BURY, NEIGHBOUR
* * *
   The word was originally the term for a moveable tower for attacking fortifications. Hence its origin in a word that literally means 'protective place of shelter,' from Germanic words related to modern German bergen, 'to save,' and Friede, 'peace.' When a similar building was used as a bell tower, the word became popularly associated with bell.

The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins. 2013.


Look at other dictionaries:

  • Belfry — Lage in Montana …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Belfry — • The upper part of the tower or steeple of a church, for the reception of the bells; or a detached tower containing bells, as the campanile of the Italians Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Belfry     Belfry …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Belfry — Belfry, MT U.S. Census Designated Place in Montana Population (2000): 219 Housing Units (2000): 119 Land area (2000): 1.902815 sq. miles (4.928268 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.902815 sq.… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Belfry, MT — U.S. Census Designated Place in Montana Population (2000): 219 Housing Units (2000): 119 Land area (2000): 1.902815 sq. miles (4.928268 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 1.902815 sq. miles… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Belfry — Bel fry, n. [OE. berfray movable tower used in sieges, OF. berfreit, berfroit, F. beffroi, fr. MHG. bervrit, bercvrit, G. bergfriede, fr. MHG. bergen to protect (G. bergen to conceal) + vride peace, protection, G. friede peace; in compounds often …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • belfry — c.1400, siege tower (late 13c. in Anglo Latin with a sense bell tower ), from O.N.Fr. berfroi movable siege tower (Mod.Fr. beffroi), from M.H.G. bercfrit protecting shelter, lit. that which watches over peace, from bergen to protect (see BURY (Cf …   Etymology dictionary

  • belfry — [n] tower; part of tower bell tower, campanile, carillon, clocher, cupola, dome, head, minaret, spire, steeple, turret; concept 440 …   New thesaurus

  • belfry — ► NOUN (pl. belfries) ▪ the place in a bell tower or steeple in which bells are housed. ORIGIN Old French belfrei …   English terms dictionary

  • belfry — [bel′frē] n. pl. belfries [ME belfrei, altered by assoc. with belle ( BELL1) < berfrai < OFr berfroi < OHG bergfrid, lit., protector of peace < bergen, to protect (see BURY) + frid, peace] 1. a movable tower used in ancient warfare… …   English World dictionary

  • Belfry — The term belfry has a variety of uses:*Bell tower, an architectural term *Belfry, a type of medieval siege tower *Belfry, Montana, a town in the United States *The Belfry, an English golf club * Belfry , a play by Billy Roche, third part of The… …   Wikipedia

  • belfry — /bel free/, n., pl. belfries. 1. a bell tower, either attached to a church or other building or standing apart. 2. the part of a steeple or other structure in which a bell is hung. 3. a frame of timberwork that holds or encloses a bell. 4. Slang …   Universalium