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An Exploration of the Word Pandemonium

Deadline 2020-03-10

  The wind howling you everywhere, men were screaming and screeching, kneeling on the ground, begging for mercy. Weapons were clanging, and bones were cracking as the bullets flying over one's head. Battlefield happens over the world; people often describe it like ‘hell,’ or even ‘pandemonium.’ Yet the word ‘pandemonium,’ which we used to describe a place filled with chaos, people are frightened, scared, and confused, has a long history in the English Language, evolving over the years. By studying the etymology of this word and analyze the usage in a few literary texts, this essays will provide an in-depth understanding of the word - pandemonium. In the first part of this essay, I will talk about the usage of the word nowadays. Then, I will define the word as used in the past. Finally, the essay will be concluded with linking the past to now, contrasting the usage of the word. 

  In most dictionaries, ‘pandemonium’ is defined as ‘a situation in which there is a lot of noise and confusion because people are excited, angry, or frightened. For example, people can use it to describe the situation during an election, crowded street where people are rushing to work in the morning, or a traffic accident when that a car is crushed and causing traffic jams. ‘Pandemonium’ is the noun form of the adjective ‘pandemoniac.’ The plural form of ‘pandemonium’ is pandemoniums or pandemonia. Common collocation includes orchestrated pandemonium, respond pandemonium, pandemonium breaks out, or peak pandemonium, etc.  Related idiomatic expressions include hue and cry ( loud opposition or angry protest ), and all hell broke loose ( people suddenly become noisy or furious ), etc. Synonyms include bedlam ( a noisy, chaotic situation ), uproar, chaos, or outburst.  

  When we look at the history of the word ‘pandemonium,’ we notice that it has changed slightly over the years. According to the online etymology dictionary, the term is a mixture of Greek and Latin, coined from John Milton ( 1608-1674) in 1667, written in his book called- “Paradise Lost.” The word did not write in Greek vocabulary, Milton created it out the analogy of ‘pantheon,’ the place where gods live. The collective noun of ‘pantheon’ and ‘pandemonium’ then being used to express ‘a place full of tumultuous, chaos, and disorder.’ According to the photo shown on the left, the old Greek word ‘pan’ refers to ‘all’ in English. According to the picture shown in the right, late Latin ‘demonium’, which means ‘evil spirit,’ from Ancient Greek δαίμων- ‘daímōn, deity.’ It means ‘the place of all (pan) demons (demonium).’ From 1779, the word was transferred as a ‘place of uproar and disorder.’ In 1865, the word came to mean ‘wild, lawless confusion.’ 

  The word ‘pandemonium’ appears in Milton’s work- “Paradise Lost”. Milton created this word for the capital of hell. In Paradise Lost Book I (1667), it mentions the fall of Adam and Eve caused by the snake, Satan. ‘Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n.’(Book 1, 263). This sentence is quoted from Paradise Lost. Eventually, Satan led rebellion among angels to fight against God and was cast into hell. One of the fallen angels, Mammon, who suggested to build a place to settle. Soon, the high Capital, Pandemonium, was constructed in an hour, designed by the architect Mulciber.  ‘ At Pandæmonium, the high Capital Of Satan and his Peers’ (Book 1, 756-757), which means the place was called Pandemonium, Satan’s palace. ‘Built like a Temple, where Pilasters round.’ (Book 1, 713) According to this sentence, ‘Pandemonium’ was constructed like a temple with numerous architectural designs. Some of you may ask why the word ‘Pandemonium’ was used in Milton’s work. If you look closer, the main character in Book 1 of Paradise Lost, Satan, is a demon, with his fellow peers gathered in the High Capital, it was so packed and rowdyish. On line 761-762 of Book 1, he described the situation in ‘Pandemonium’ in the following way: ‘Attended: all access was throng'd, the Gates And Porches wide, but chief the spacious Hall.’ It shows that fallen angels were mobbed and everyone went inside till the whole hall was crowded. In some ways, then, the word ‘pandemonium’ appears to be aligning with the scene, that all demons were gathered. In this case, the word has some connection to Milton’s description.  

  Within a century or so, the word was being used in other writings in extended senses. Referring to things similar to real hell, and sooner or later, to the modern meaning of ‘confusion, tumult, or uproar.’ One of the earliest use of ‘Pandemonium’ in its current sense is in the Cheltenham Chronicle ( Gloucestershrine ) of Thursday, 11th March 1819. ‘Let any man, in his senses, take a view of the riot - the confusion- the fury- the pandemonium of hatred, discord, and all bad feeling, let loose in the late contest for Westminster.’ The term word ‘Pandemonium’ quoted in the above means hell, full of hatred. The word not only appeared in literature writings but also in the newspaper. It appeared in the Guardian of Thursday 9th July 1713 also had the same usage, referring to hell. Written by the English writer and politician Joseph Addison (1672-1719): ‘He would have a large Piece of Machinery represent the Pan-daemonium.’ Interestingly, the meaning of the word had slightly changed afterward. For example, ‘Pandemonium’ was used in the ‘M—cki—n’s Answer to Tully’(1755), by Irish actor and dramatist Charles Macklin ( 1699-1797). To describe a state of extreme confusion: ‘As I had at the Beginning...waggishly term’d the Audience my Pandemonium’ In light of the above, we notice that the meaning of the word changed over the years. 

By examining the history of the word, we can notice the development and evolution of it. The meaning of words or phrases will change under different circumstances, in different period. It is time for us to look closer, by examing words that we use every day, reviewing the story behind them, understanding how English has evolved.  Appreciate, acknowledge, and recognize.