Word History

Hot Mess

Our research turned up two archaic literal meanings


play hot mess
152,542 views
Featuring: Emily Brewster
You're probably familiar with the term hot mess. But do you know how old hot mess really is?

TRANSCRIPT


Welcome to ask the editor. I'm Emily Brewster, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster.

Most of you are likely familiar with the informal term hot mess as in the project was going terribly.
It was such a hot mess.

Or it was such a stressful situation.
I was such a hot mess.

What you might not realize is just how old that use of the term is. Before a person or a situation could be a hot mess, a hot mess was simply a mess that was hot with mess here being related to the kind of mess served in a mess hall.

But when you're defining a figurative term like hot mess, you also have to define any older literal meanings that were formerly considered self-explanatory.

Our research turned up two now archaic literal meanings of hot mess. A hot dish especially of soft or pulpy food and a hot mixture of ingredients cooked or eaten together. The quest for early evidence of the literal meaning of hot mess in use led to a surprising discovery, though.

A Mr. P.J. Conlon in an 1899 journal bemoaned the naivete of the people in his community. They believe everything they see in the newspapers. If the newspaper says "the sky is painted with green chalk" that is what goes. Verily, I say unto you, the public is a hot mess.

The term hot mess in current use isn't far off from Conlon's usage. We define it as something or someone that is emphatically a mess such as A, something in a state of extreme disorder or disarray or B, a disorganized, disheveled, or self-destructive person.

Conlon likely would not have predicted a very new development in the word's meaning. It now also means a disorganized, disheveled, or self-destructive person who is at the same time attractive or sexy.

Verily, I say unto you, hot mess has come a long way.

For more Ask the Editor episodes, visit merriam-webster.com.

Up Next

Autoplay
play hot mess
Hot Mess

 

152,542 views

play merriam-webster eggcorns title page
What Is an Eggcorn?

 

24,071 views

play mrs malaprop
What is a Malaprop?

 

136,667 views

play alright allright video
Alright vs. All Right

 

135,310 views

play there theyre their video
There, They're, Their

 

101,742 views

play sneaked vs snuck video
Sneaked vs. Snuck

 

55,485 views

play further vs farther video
Further vs. Farther

 

46,507 views

play video lay vs lie
Lay vs. Lie

 

323,891 views

play fun funner funnest
Fun, Funner, Funnest

 

259,279 views

play video old school grammar humorsome
Old-School Grammar

 

241,128 views

play video schwa
The Schwa

 

160,561 views

play video ie vs eg
i.e. vs. e.g.

 

168,546 views

play video its vs its
Its vs. It's

 

76,930 views

play video healthy vs healthful
Healthy vs. Healthful

 

106,793 views

play video between you and i or me
I vs. Me

 

68,667 views

play video literally
Literally

 

440,428 views

play video hopefully
Hopefully

 

95,670 views

play video who vs whom
Who vs. Whom

 

82,714 views

play video affect vs effect
Affect vs. Effect

 

117,511 views