Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Defining Bedlam

The word "bedlam," which is defined as 'noisy uproar, chaos or confusion,' has a strange origin which links it to a much darker and mysterious meaning.

Bedlam is a corruption of the word "Bethlehem," and the allusion is not to the birthplace of Christ, but to the St. Mary of Bethlehem Insane Asylum in North London. This is said to be the oldest mental institution in the world.

According to the Sadlier Oxford Vocabulary book in which I read this, "Though it began by admitting the poor and destitute, it soon took in 'lunatics,' as they were called, in the 1300s. By the 1700s the patients were seriously mistreated, and the staff members sold admission tickets to the wealthy so that they could see the mentally ill up close."

I tend to forget that simple words we use each day often have long and involved histories, some of which are rather horrifying.


Martin Edwards said...

A fact which I find interesting is that Dr Crippen studied medicine at Bedlam.....

Julia Buckley said...

Wow--another creepy connotation to link to that word. :0