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From Bedlam, alternative name of the English lunatic asylum, Bethlem Royal Hospital (royal hospital from 1375, mental hospital from 1403) (earlier St Mary of Bethlehem outside Bishopsgate, hospice in existence from 1329, priory established 1247), since used to mean “a place or situation of madness and chaos”. Bedlam as name of hospital attested 1450.

Phonologically, corruption of Bethlem, itself a corruption of Bethlehem (the Biblical town), from Ancient Greek Βηθλεέμ (Bēthleém) from Biblical Hebrew בֵּית לֶחֶם (bêṯ leḥem, literally house of bread).



bedlam (plural bedlams)

  1. A place or situation of chaotic uproar, and where confusion prevails.
    • 1872, John Bunyan, The Complete Works of John Bunyan, page 133:
      Some of the wards were veritable "bedlams," and dis-charged patients have told of abuses practiced in them of which the mere recital causes a shudder.
    • 2002: Mark L. Friedman, Everyday Crisis Management, p 134
      The outside of the Hyatt was bedlam. There was a group of more than a hundred injured people on the circular drive in front of the hotel.
  2. (obsolete) An insane person; a lunatic; a madman.
    • Shakespeare
      Let's get the bedlam to lead him.
  3. (obsolete) A lunatic asylum; a madhouse.
    • 1720, Archbishop Tillotson, The works of the Most Reverend Dr. John Tillotson, page 43:
      But if any man should profess to believe these things, and yet allow himself in any known wickedness, such a one should be put into bedlam.