Often when I return from a trip to the grocery store, I report to my husband that the store was “Bedlam.” Bedlam is the most apt descriptor on a Saturday morning, which often is when parents give their spouses a break by taking the kids to the supermarket, parking their carts in the middle of the aisles, ignoring the indoor traffic conventions and letting their young kids run around in circles and climb the cereal shelves. It’s Bedlam, I tell you.
It wasn’t until I reviewed the origins of food names for yesterday’s blog post that I realized how appropriate the term is for the supermarket. Okay, that might be a stretch. But maybe for the bakery.
According to Martha Barnette’s book, Ladyfingers & Nun’s Tummies: A Lighthearted Look at How Foods Got Their Names, Bedlam has its roots in food; specifically, in bread.
She tells the story in the chapter on Places Named for Foods, right after how Topeka, Kansas, takes its name from “good place to dig potatoes.”
From the Hebrew words beth, “house,” and lechem, “bread,” comes from the name of the little town of Bethlehem, or “house of bread,” which, in turn, eventually gave rise to an English word for “crazed confusion and uproar.” In medieval London, the Hospital of Saint Mary of Bethlehem was converted into an asylum for the insane. Over time this grim institution came to be known simply as Bethlehem, then Bethlem and Bedlem, and eventually, Bedlam, which in turn led to today’s term for crazed noisiness and clamor.
She then explains how the word marathon comes from the ancient Greek word for fennel, but I’ve got to end this somewhere.