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[mes-uhp] /ˈmɛsˌʌp/
a blunder; state of confusion; mix-up.
Origin of mess-up
First recorded in 1900-05; noun use of verb phrase mess up


[mes] /mɛs/
a dirty, untidy, or disordered condition:
The room was in a mess.
a person or thing that is dirty, untidy, or disordered.
a state of embarrassing confusion:
My affairs are in a mess.
an unpleasant or difficult situation:
She got into a mess driving without a license.
a dirty or untidy mass, litter, or jumble:
a mess of papers.
a group regularly taking their meals together.
the meal so taken.
Naval. messroom.
a quantity of food sufficient for a dish or a single occasion:
to pick a mess of sweet corn for dinner.
a sloppy or unappetizing preparation of food.
a dish or quantity of soft or liquid food:
to cook up a nice mess of pottage.
a person whose life or affairs are in a state of confusion, especially a person with a confused or disorganized moral or psychological outlook.
verb (used with object)
to make dirty or untidy (often followed by up):
Don't mess the room.
to make a mess or muddle of (affairs, responsibilities, etc.) (often followed by up):
They messed the deal.
to supply with meals, as military personnel.
to treat roughly; beat up (usually followed by up):
The gang messed him up.
verb (used without object)
to eat in company, especially as a member of a mess.
to make a dirty or untidy mess.
Verb phrases
mess around/about,
  1. Informal. to busy oneself without purpose or plan; work aimlessly or halfheartedly; putter.
  2. Informal. to waste time; loaf.
  3. Informal. to meddle or interfere.
  4. Informal. to involve or associate oneself, especially for immoral or unethical purposes:
    His wife accused him of messing around with gamblers.
  5. Slang. to trifle sexually; philander.
mess in/with, to intervene officiously; meddle:
You'll get no thanks for messing in the affairs of others.
mess up,
  1. to make dirty, untidy, or disordered.
  2. to make muddled, confused, etc.; make a mess of; spoil; botch.
  3. to perform poorly; bungle:
    She messed up on the final exam.
1250-1300; Middle English mes < Old French: a course at a meal < Late Latin missus what is sent (i.e., put on the table), noun use of past participle of Latin mittere to send
3. muddle, farrago, hodgepodge. 4. predicament, plight, muddle, pickle. 15. confuse, mix up.
1. tidiness. 3. order. 15. arrange. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for mess up
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The way they mess up their hair and go in for savage colors!

    Erik Dorn

    Ben Hecht
  • I sees too many married troubles to mess up with such doings!

  • Marjorie's arrivin' durin' business hours was likely to mess up the schedule.

    Torchy Sewell Ford
  • The best spies and saboteurs in the world have been hired to mess up the Platform.

    Space Platform Murray Leinster
  • There was no longer any doubt that Alma Dakin was in this mess up to her bangs.

    Twelve Times Zero Howard Carleton Browne
British Dictionary definitions for mess up


a state of confusion or untidiness, esp if dirty or unpleasant: the house was in a mess
a chaotic or troublesome state of affairs; muddle: his life was a mess
(informal) a dirty or untidy person or thing
(archaic) a portion of food, esp soft or semiliquid food
a place where service personnel eat or take recreation: an officers' mess
a group of people, usually servicemen, who eat together
the meal so taken
mess of pottage, a material gain involving the sacrifice of a higher value
(transitive) often foll by up. to muddle or dirty
(intransitive) to make a mess
(intransitive) often foll by with. to interfere; meddle
(intransitive; often foll by with or together) (military) to group together, esp for eating
Word Origin
C13: from Old French mes dish of food, from Late Latin missus course (at table), from Latin mittere to send forth, set out
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for mess up



c.1300, "food for one meal, pottage," from Old French mes "portion of food, course at dinner," from Late Latin missus "course at dinner," literally "a placing, a putting (on a table, etc.)," from past participle of mittere "to put, place," in classical Latin "to send, let go" (see mission).

Meaning "communal eating place" (especially a military one) is first attested 1530s, from earlier sense of "company of persons eating together" (early 15c.), originally a group of four. Sense of "mixed food," especially for animals, (1738) led to contemptuous use for "jumble, mixed mass" (1828) and figurative sense of "state of confusion" (1834), as well as "condition of untidiness" (1851). General use for "a quantity" of anything is attested by 1830. Meaning "excrement" (of animals) is from 1903.



late 14c., "serve up in portions," from mess (n.). Meaning "take one's meals" is from 1701; that of "make a mess" is from 1853. Related: Messed; messing. To mess with "interfere, get involved" is from 1903; mess up "make a mistake, get in trouble" is from 1933 (earlier" make a mess of," 1909), both originally American English colloquial.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for mess up

mess up

verb phrase

  1. To disarrange; muddle: Who messed up these figures? (1909+)
  2. To injure; damage: The drugs and booze messed up her mind (1919+)
  3. To get into trouble; make a botch; fuck up: If you don't mess up you get an automatic promotion (1915+)



  1. A desperately confused situation; trouble; chaos; foul-up, fuck-up: ''You seem to have got into a mess,'' said the officer (1834+)
  2. An incompetent, disorganized, and confused person: Honey, I'm a mess (1936+)
  3. Dirt, garbage, trash, etc; a dirtying: Clean up your damn mess (1851+)
The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with mess up

mess up

Create disorder in; muddle or ruin. For example, On rainy days the children really mess up the house, or He had a way of messing up his own business. [ c. 1900 ]
Make a mistake, especially from nervousness or confusion, as in He messed up and took the wrong dossier to the meeting, or Jill swore she would never mess up again. [ ; early 1900s ]
Beat up, manhandle, as in Joe got messed up in a barroom brawl. [ ; early 1900s ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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