Origins of Common Words - Bedlam

About the history, origins, and definitions of the common word bedlam.

UNCOMMON STORIES BEHIND COMMON WORDS

Bedlam - Ironically, bedlam is a corruption of Bethlehem. The priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem was established in 1247 in the Bishopsgate part of London, but the local inhabitants of that time had their own speech, which was not always the king's English. "Bethlehem" came out "Bedlam." When, under Henry VIII, the monasteries were dissolved by the crown, the priory was granted to the city of London, which incorporated it in 1547 as a lunatic asylum. The name Bedlam became irretrievably linked with the noise and confusion within its walls. In the 18th century, the term also referred specifically to the half-mad, licensed beggars discharged from the asylum and seen around London wearing as a badge a tin plate on their left arm or hand.

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