Originally Posted by Sam Flynn
"Spreads mayhem" is one of the biggies for me. I'd strongly contend that the diarist is using the phrase in a rather modern sense of "spreading chaos/confusion"; however, "mayhem" was, until about the middle of the 20th century, almost exclusively used to mean "injury". The meaning seems to have flipped in the middle of the 20th century when sports commentators reported on general carnage and confusion on the field of play. The (physical) carnage morphed into the (metaphorical) confusion, and the definition of "mayhem" in the popular imagination changed.
Tellingly, the phrases "spread/spreads/spreading mayhem" just never turn up in publication I've found before the late 1960s. Hardly surprising, since, taking the earlier definition of "mayhem = injury", the concept of "spreading injury" makes very little sense; it takes the new coinage of "mayhem = confusion" to make sense of the phrase.
Doesn't the word mayhem come from the old French, or Anglo-Norman, word "mahaim", meaning mutilation, or the crime of maiming?
The modern sense, meaning extreme disorder, originated in America in the 19th century: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=...tury&f=fa lse