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Words, Dec. 11

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“Oklahoma will do its best to make [its] case amid Bedlam … This year's Bedlam rivalry game finds the Sooners facing what figures to be an even greater challenge than in 2001.”

Maybe the name was adopted more than a couple of years ago (although it's relatively new, I'll bet), but that's when I first noticed that the annual Oklahoma-Oklahoma State football game is called Bedlam on the sports page. I'm sure the name wasn't in use when Oklahoma State was Oklahoma A&M. Aggies would have thought it hifalutin.  

In the lower case, bedlam means “noisy disorder” and “a place of noisy disorder,” as in “The justices' conference was bedlam.” But OU and OSU, or their media supporters, make a proper noun of it — Bedlam with a capital B. That's too much word, with too much history behind it, to be used on a college football game in Oklahoma.

A short version of “Bethlehem,” Bedlam is derived from the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem. The hospital was founded in London in 1247 and evolved over the years into a famous insane  asylum. (As they used to be called. Today you're more apt to hear “mental health facility,” or something on that order.) Management was bad about abusing inmates, and Boris Karloff made a scary movie about the place, called simply “Bedlam.” Bedlam goes with Boris Karloff. It does not go with Sooners and Cowboys. Evidently, a number of teams are adopting portentous names for their football rivalries. Oregon and Oregon State, I've learned, call theirs “the Civil War.” Arkansas has no such game name that I know of. The tragic 1969 affair with Texas was called “the Big Shoot-out” but that was a one-time thing.

Still, if everybody else is doing it … If the Razorbacks ever resume playing Texas on a regular basis, we might call it “Armageddon,” after the great battlefield where the forces of good and evil meet.

“This year's Armageddon rivalry game finds the Longhorns paralyzed with fear.” I like the sound of that. 

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