Absolute Bedlam

I’d heard the word bedlam in earliest youth as a reference to pandemonium, chaos, or things being “a madhouse,” but didn’t realize then the word refers to a literal asylum. The Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem became “Bedlam” in common English parlance at some point long ago. The facility was first located in Bishopsgate, then in 1676 was moved near the London wall, and in 1815 was again moved, this time to Lambeth.

Even when I made the connection between bedlam and Bethlehem, I hadn’t realized how old the term is. OED finds cites for it in the sixteenth century, while the hospital itself dates back at least to the 1300s.

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