Barking is an east London suburb about 9 miles from the city centre along the River Thames. It originated as an Anglo-Saxon village in Essex – the land of the East Saxons. As ‘C’ was pronounced ‘K’ in the German tongue the original name Berecingas (settlement in the birch trees) was corrupted to Barking.
The story goes in the Middle Ages St Mary’s Abbey in Barking ran a hospital for the care of the insane. And that gave rise to the English expression ‘Barking Mad’.
The words hospital, hospice, hostel and hotel come from the Latin hospes, meaning stranger. The word hospitium gave rise to the word hospitality signifying the care and succour of strangers.
The asylum at Barking Abbey is a great story but unfortunately probably not true. The use of ‘Barking Mad’ started in the 20th century and probably relates to the frenzied barking of mad dogs, just like it sounds it does.
While on the subject of mad dogs… The word ‘lunatic’ meaning ‘moonstruck’ came about because the ancient Greeks and Romans thought the full moon caused epilepsy and madness in people and dogs – making them to howl at the moon.
Howling in dogs goes back to the pack instinct of the wolf. However as people originally believed wolves were dogs gone bad (rather than dogs being domesticated wolves) they thought howling at the moon meant they were stricken with madness.
Bedlam as in “it’s Bedlam out there!” is an old London word meaning wild, mad or chaotic. It comes from the Bethlem Royal Hospital, which was for centuries one of London’s principle insane asylums.