A military tower, pushed by besiegers against the wall of a besieged city, that missiles may be thrown more easily against the defenders. Probably a church steeple is called a belfry from its resemblance to these towers, and not because bells are hung in it. (French, beffroi, a watch-tower, Old French, berfreit, belefreit, from German, berg-frit, bergen, to protect, frit [vride], a place fenced in for security.)
Alone, and warming his five wits, The white owl in the belfry sits.
Tennyson: The Owl, stanza 1.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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