a blunder; state of confusion; mix-up.

Origin of mess-up

First recorded in 1900–05; noun use of verb phrase mess up




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. busy oneself without purpose or plan; work aimlessly or halfheartedly; putter.
  2. waste time; loaf.
  3. meddle or interfere.
  4. involve or associate oneself, especially for immoral or unethical purposes: His wife accused him of messing around with gamblers.
  5. 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.

Origin of mess

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

Synonyms for mess

Antonyms for mess

1. tidiness. 3. order. 15. arrange. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for mess up



a state of confusion or untidiness, esp if dirty or unpleasantthe house was in a mess
a chaotic or troublesome state of affairs; muddlehis 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 recreationan 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


(tr often foll by up) to muddle or dirty
(intr) to make a mess
(intr often foll by with) to interfere; meddle
(intr; often foll by with or together) military to group together, esp for eating

Word Origin for mess

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

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

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. [Colloquial; early 1900s]


Beat up, manhandle, as in Joe got messed up in a barroom brawl. [Slang; early 1900s]


In addition to the idioms beginning with mess

  • mess around
  • mess up
  • mess with

also see:

  • get into trouble (a mess)
  • make a hash (mess) of
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.