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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.
    • 1888, H.H. Giles, The Insane, and the Wisconsin System for their Care, page 18:
      Some of the wards were veritable "bedlams," and discharged patients have told of abuses practiced in them of which the mere recital causes a shudder.
    • 2002, Mark L. Friedman, Everyday Crisis Management, page 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.
    • 2005, Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go, page 31:
      A car was a rarity, and the sight of one in the distance was sometimes enough to cause bedlam during a class.
    • 2020 June 3, Sam Mullins OBE discusses with Stefanie Foster, “LTM: a new chapter begins at 40”, in Rail, page 54:
      "We had an extraordinary February half term - I think we had 22,000 visitors in the seven days. Which actually is a bit like bedlam at times."
  2. (obsolete) An insane person; a lunatic; a madman.
    • ca. 1605, William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act III, sc. 7:
      Let's follow the old Earl, and get the Bedlam
      To lead him where he would; his roguish madness
      Allows itself to anything.
    • 1678, John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress, Christian overtakes Faithful:
      The pilgrims were clothed with such kind of raiment as was diverse from the raiment of any that traded in that fair. The people, therefore, of the fair, made a great gazing upon them: some said they were fools, some they were bedlams, and some they are outlandish men.
  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.
    • 1824, Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto XIV:lxxxiv:
      Shut up the world at large, let Bedlam out;
      And you will be perhaps surprised to find
      All things pursue exactly the same route,
      As now with those of soi-disant sound mind.
    • 1843, Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol":
      “There’s another fellow,” muttered Scrooge; who overheard him: “my clerk, with fifteen shillings a week, and a wife and family, talking about a merry Christmas. I’ll retire to Bedlam.”
    • ca. 1909, Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth, Letter II:
      ... only the holy can stand the joys of that bedlam.


  • Russian: бедла́м (bedlám)


Further reading[edit]