What's in a Word? Pandemonium

by John Bemelmans Marciano

Photo: pottipotti / Flickr

pan•de•mo•ni•um n. Anarchy unleashed.

Pandemonium makes its first appearance in the opening chapter of John Miltonís 1667 opus Paradise Lost. Milton coined the term, which is a pastiche of ancient Greek and Latin: Pan-demon-ium is the all-demon abode, the unholy Stygian palace of Satan and his lackeys. Paradise Lost concerns the twinned tales of two falls: the first, of Satan and his fellow renegadesí descent from Heaven to Hell; the second, of Adam and Eve's eviction from the Garden of Eden, as orchestrated by Satan. Although a godly Christian poem, Satan is by far Milton's most compelling, and most human, character. Upon his banishment from Heaven, you can fairly feel the wayward archangelís snarl:

Farewel happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be changíd by Place or Time. The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.

Having whipped his fellow fallen angels into a frenzy, Satan ends his speech with the greatest rock 'n' roll rallying cry of all time: Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n.

This entry is excerpted from Toponymity: An Atlas of Words, by John Bemelmans Marciano, and is reprinted here with permission.