Word of the Day


© Getty Images
Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a noisy and confusing place or situation

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The noun bedlam comes from Bethlehem, part of the name of an old psychiatric hospital in London. It has been used in English since the 16th century.


Bedlam is a way of saying and writing the name of the town of Bethlehem that dates back to the end of the first millennium. Although it is no longer used as a name, it survives in the word bedlam which took its name from an ancient hospital for the mentally ill in London called St. Mary of Bethlehem. Places like this, where mentally ill people were incarcerated without effective treatments or any hope of cure, were notoriously chaotic, which is how the term came to be used for any chaotic place or situation. Bedlam collocates with adjectives such as absolute, utter, sheer and complete as well as with the noun chaos. You can explore other terms for noisy and confused situations here.


“I used to look like a deer in headlights on the red carpet. You step out of the car and it’s bedlam. Everyone’s got crazy eyes.
(Emily Blunt)

“To think the world therefore a general Bedlam, or place of madmen, and oneself a physician, is the most necessary point of present wisdom: an important imagination, and the way to happiness.”
(Thomas Traherne)

Related Words

commotion, brouhaha, turmoil, pandemonium

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

Leave a Comment