Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A place or situation of noisy uproar and confusion.
  • n. Archaic An insane asylum.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A place or situation of chaotic uproar, and where confusion prevails.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Belonging to, or fit for, a madhouse.
  • n. A place appropriated to the confinement and care of the insane; a madhouse.
  • n. An insane person; a lunatic; a madman.
  • n. Any place where uproar and confusion prevail.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. [capitalized] The hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London, originally a priory, founded about 1247, but afterward used as an asylum for lunatics.
  • n. Hence A madhouse; a lunatic asylum.
  • n. A scene of wild uproar and confusion.
  • n. An inmate or a patient of Bethlehem Hospital, or Bedlam; specifically, one discharged as cured (though often only partially cured) and licensed to beg.
  • n. Hence In general, a madman; a lunatic.
  • Belonging to or fit for a bedlam or madhouse; mad; mentally deranged.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a state of extreme confusion and disorder
  • n. pejorative terms for an insane asylum

Etymologies

Middle English Bedlem, Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem, an institution in London for the mentally ill.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
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), sense used to mean “a place or situation of madness and chaos”. Bedlam as name of hospital attested 1450. (Wiktionary)

Examples

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  • "In the abrupt bedlam, I could hear more then one person shouting my name."- Twilight, Stephanie Meyer, pg. 57

    October 27, 2010

  • This word has always reminded me of Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

    June 27, 2007

  • My fifth grade teacher said to the class "It's bedlam in here." I could not have been more shocked. I thought Mrs. Wolf had said a Bad Word. Perhaps like (gasp) h-e-l-l.

    June 27, 2007

  • Patiomensch, I remember that I started liking this word when I learned its history. Fascinating. :-)

    April 13, 2007

  • Interesting (from Google's def):

    "The Bethlem Royal Hospital of London, which has been variously known as Bethlem Hospital, Bethlehem Hospital and Bedlam, is the world's oldest psychiatric hospital. Bethlehem was shortened to Bedleem and Bedlem in Middle English. The hospital was nicknamed Bedlam from early on. From the early 16th century, bedlam also came to mean `mad'. Shakespeare, in Henry 6th, speaks of "the bedlam brain-sick duchess" (1590s?). This use lasted to the early 18th century, but the late 16th century was already using bedlamite."

    April 13, 2007