AskDefine | Define mess

Dictionary Definition



1 a state of confusion and disorderliness; "the house was a mess"; "she smoothed the mussiness of the bed" [syn: messiness, muss, mussiness]
2 informal terms for a difficult situation; "he got into a terrible fix"; "he made a muddle of his marriage" [syn: fix, hole, jam, muddle, pickle, kettle of fish]
3 soft semiliquid food; "a mess of porridge"
4 a meal eaten by service personnel
5 a (large) military dining room where service personnel eat or relax [syn: mess hall]
6 (often followed by `of') a large number or amount or extent; "a batch of letters"; "a deal of trouble"; "a lot of money"; "he made a mint on the stock market"; "it must have cost plenty" [syn: batch, deal, flock, good deal, great deal, hatful, heap, lot, mass, mickle, mint, muckle, peck, pile, plenty, pot, quite a little, raft, sight, slew, spate, stack, tidy sum, wad, whole lot, whole slew]


1 eat in a mess hall
2 make a mess of or create disorder in; "He messed up his room" [syn: mess up]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /mɛs/
  • Rhymes with: -ɛs

Etymology 1

mes, mets, missum, < mittere (e.g. on the table), mittere. See mission, and compare Mass.


  1. Mass; church service.
  2. A quantity of food set on a table at one time; provision of food for a person or party for one meal; also, the food given to a beast at one time.
    A mess of pottage.
  3. A number of persons who eat together, and for whom food is prepared in common; especially, persons in the military or naval service who eat at the same table.
    The wardroom mess.
  4. A set of four; — from the old practice of dividing companies into sets of four at dinner.
  5. The milk given by a cow at one milking.
Mass; church service
  • Danish: messe
  • German: Messe


  1. To take meals with a mess.
  2. To belong to a mess.
  3. To eat (with others).
    I mess with the wardroom officers.
  4. To supply with a mess.

Etymology 2

Perhaps a corruption of mesh, compare muss.


  1. A disagreeable mixture or confusion of things; hence, a situation resulting from blundering or from misunderstanding; a disorder.
    He made a mess of it.
  2. A large quantity or number.
    My boss dumped a whole mess of projects on my desk today.
a disagreeable mixture or confusion of things…
  • Danish: rod
  • German: Durcheinander
Derived terms


  • 1913}}



Extensive Definition

A mess is the place where military personnel socialise, eat and (in some cases) live. In some societies this military usage has extended to other disciplined services eateries such as civilian fire fighting and police forces.The root of "mess" is the Old French "mes," portion of food, drawn from the Latin verb "mittere," meaning "to send" or "to put," the original sense being "a course of a meal put on the table." This sense of "mess," which appeared in English in the 13th century, was often used for cooked or liquid dishes in particular, as in the "mess of pottage" (porridge or soup) for which Esau in Genesis traded his birthright. By the 15th century, a group of people who ate together was also known as a "mess," and it is this sense that persists in the "mess halls" of today's military.


Messing in the Canadian Forces generally follows the British model (see United Kingdom below), from whom most traditions have descended.
As in the British Forces, there are normally three messes: the Officers' Mess (called the Wardroom in Naval establishments), for commissioned officers and officer cadets; the Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess (Navy: Chiefs' and Petty Officers' Mess), for senior non-commissioned officers and warrant officers; and the Junior Ranks Mess, for junior non-commissioned officers, privates, and seamen. Some bases, such as CFB Kingston in the 1980s, had a Master Corporals' Mess separate from the Junior Ranks'; all of these, with the exception of the CFB Valcartier Master Corporals mess (known as the "Mess des chefs"),have since been amalgamated with the Junior Ranks' Messes.
Most bases and stations have three messes (Officers', Warrant Officers' and Sergeants', and Junior Ranks'). Many of these establishments have lodger units (such as Air Squadrons, Army Regiments, etc) who also have their own messes. All of Her Majesty's Canadian Ships have three messes aboard; this extends to Naval Reserve Divisions and other Naval shore establishments which bear the title HMCS (see stone frigate).
Due to limited budgets and declining revenues, many messes have been forced to close or amalgamate: for example, at CFS St. John's, the Junior Ranks' Mess of Newfoundland Militia District closed, its members moving to the Station's Junior Ranks'; the Station's Officers' Mess and Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess later amalgamated.
Headgear is not worn in Canadian Messes, except:
  • by personnel on duty, such as a Duty or Watch Officer, or the Military Police;
  • as permitted on special occasions, such as during costume parties, theme events, etc;
  • by personnel for whom wearing headgear is mandatory (i.e. Religious reasons)
The usual "penalty" (which may only be executed if the offender voluntarily submits) applied to personnel who neglect to remove their headdress is to buy a round of drinks for the members present. The area from the entrance to the cloakroom, however, is normally considered a "neutral zone", and exempt from the no-headgear policy.
This prohibition is also extended to civilians, who are normally requested to remove their headdress upon entering; should they decline, they may be refused entry; they are not, however, normally subject to the "round for the house" rule.
All Canadian Forces personnel, Regular and Reserve, must belong to a mess, and are termed ordinary members of their particular mess. Although normally on Federal property, messes have been ordered to comply with the legal drinking age laws of their province; for example, an 18-year-old soldier may legally consume alcohol in a Quebec mess, but not in one in Ontario, where the legal age is 19. However, despite being underage, the soldier may not be prohibited entry into the mess.
Canadian Forces personnel are normally welcome in any mess of their appropriate rank group, regardless of element; thus a Regimental Sergeant-Major of an Infantry battalion is welcome in a Chiefs' and Petty Officers' Mess (inter-service rivalries notwithstanding). Personnel of a different rank (except as noted below) must ask for permission to enter; that may be granted by the President of the Mess Committee, his designate, or the senior member present.
These restrictions are normally waived on certain special occasions, when the messes are "opened" to all personnel, regardless of rank. These occasions may include (and will be locally published by the Mess Committee):
The Commanding Officer of the establishment or unit that owns the mess is permitted access to all his messes; thus a ship's captain has access to his vessel's Chiefs' and Petty Officers' Mess, the Commanding Officer of a regiment may enter any of his regimental messes, and the Base Commander of a Canadian Forces Base is welcome in any of his base's messes. In practice, Commanding Officers rarely enter anything other than the Officers' Mess unless invited, as a point of etiquette. In addition, duty personnel — such as a Duty NCO or Officer of the Watch — or the Military Police have access to any and all messes for the purposes of maintaining good order and discipline. Chaplains are usually welcomed in all messes.
As in the UK, Canadian messes are run by the Mess Committee, a group democratically elected by the members of the mess. One exception is on warships, where the president of the junior ranks mess is appointed by the Commanding Officer. The Committee members are generally the same as those of their British counterparts, with the addition of special representatives for such things as sports, housing, morale, etc. These positions are normally spelled out in the mess constitution.
Every mess has a constitution, which sets out the bylaws, regulations, and guidelines for such things as conduct of mess meetings, associate memberships, dress regulations within the mess, or booking of the mess by civilian organizations. The constitution and any amendments are voted upon by the members of the mess.


The Indian Army too follows a system which is quite similar to the British. A typical regiment/unit would have three messes. One for the commissioned officers, one for the Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) and one for the NCOs. Havildars/Daffadars (equivalent to Sergeants) are considered to be NCOs and do not go to the officer's or JCO mess. The Air Force however has an SNCO (Sr. NCO) mess, in which Warrant Officers and Sergeants would be members, while the lower ranks would be members in the NCOs mess.
In the officer's mess and the JCO's mess, there also is rank of Mess Havildar. A Mess Havildar is a senior NCO, who manages and executes the day to day activities of the mess.
On Republic Day (January 26th) the officers are formally invited for a lunch at the JCOs mess. The same is recriprocated on Independence Day (August 15th), by the Officers.


Israeli Navy

In the Israeli Navy, although Hebrew speaking, dining rooms in the Saar 5 Missile Boats, and the kitchen in the Patrol Boats are named Messes, Crew Mess and Officers' Mess. Also, every special meal brought by a crewman, say celebrating a birthday or a rank promotion, is called Mess. Few of the soldiers in the Israeli Navy actually know the origins of the word, offering alternative explanations, such as "Short for Messiba (party in Hebrew)".
The word is probably left over from the British Royal Navy.

United Kingdom

On a British Army garrison or Royal Air Force station, there are usually three Messes: the Officers' Mess, for Commissioned Officers, the Sergeants' Mess, for Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (SNCOs) and Warrant Officers (WOs), and finally the Junior Ranks' Mess (JRM), for Junior Ranks, including Junior Non-Commissioned Officer. Officers and SNCOs usually live (if they are unmarried and do not want to live off base), eat and socialise in their Messes, whereas Junior Ranks usually just eat there, being accommodated in barrack blocks and socialising in the NAAFI bar.
There are various customs associated with the Messes. When a Senior Officer visits an Officers' Mess, they will leave their hat on the table in the foyer to give fair warning of their presence. In the JRM, it is customary for personnel to hide their badges of rank, thus everyone becomes the same level. Headdresses are removed upon entering a mess (service personnel without headdress are "out of uniform", and those out of uniform can NOT salute). The typical tradition is that anyone wearing a form of headdress inside the mess (due to forgetfulness or inexperience) must buy a round of drinks.
All service personnel belong to a Mess, which is typically located near the unit's HQ. Most Messes have dues (monthly or yearly, depending upon the Mess), and are non-profit. This allows the Mess to have substantially lower prices when compared with civilian bars and clubs. A soldier, sailor or airman is welcome in any Mess equivalent to his rank, should they be away from their home unit, as long as they are paying dues in at least one mess. Any servicemen of a different rank (excluding the unit's Commanding Officer, the Duty Officer, duty NCO and Military Police) must ask permission to enter the Mess. No discipline can arise for not allowing someone of higher rank into a mess, or not doing so in a timely manner. One is often required to buy a round to be allowed entry into a mess. The main exceptions are for the Duty Officer and Duty NCO, who are required to keep order in the Mess.
A Mess is run by the Mess Committee, a group democratically elected by the members of the Mess.
  1. President of the Mess Committee (Mr PMC)
  2. Vice President of the Mess Committee (Mr Vice), who is responsible for toasts during Mess Dinners.
  3. Treasurer
  4. Secretary, who is responsible for records and minutes, etc.
  5. Barman, who is responsible for keeping the bar stocked.
  6. House, who is responsible for furniture and for any special events or parties in the mess.
Despite it being a democracy, the Commanding Officer (CO) of the unit has right of veto over the mess, and any large changes or events must have his approval. If reasonable requests are rejected then it is considered an abuse of power and can be appealed (except in battlefield conditions). Because of this, the CO is always allowed into the Mess, but it is often considered an abuse of power, unbecoming conduct or disturbing the order for a CO to drink in a lower rank mess, except when invited on special occasions.
The Officers' Mess in a Royal Navy ship or base is called the Wardroom.
Mess dress is the military term for the formal evening dress worn in the mess or at other formal occasions. It is also known as mess kit. Mess dress would be worn at occasions requiring white tie or black tie as the dress.

United States

United States Army

In the United States Army, the mess is called a mess hall. The Officers' Club is somewhat comparable to the Officer's Mess. A mess can also refer to the formal afair of having a dining in/out. A dining in being held for military members and is closed to the public. A dining out is a social event for military personnel and their families.

United States Air Force

Social clubs on United States Air Force installations were at one time called Open Messes, even though most were known in vernacular as Officers Clubs or NCO clubs. At one time each squadron had its club, but these disappeared after World War II and the club became a facility of a base rather than a unit. Most are now officially referred to as officer or enlisted clubs; the term "mess" has largely disappeared from the Air Force lexicon. Though a few bases (usually major training bases) have separate Airmen's Clubs for junior enlisted and NCO Clubs for noncommissioned officers, this is no longer normally the case. Physically separate Officers' Clubs are still the norm; however, smaller Air Force installations may have one consolidated club with separate lounges. Membership is voluntary, though highly encouraged for senior NCOs and officers. Most NCO and Officers Clubs contain a sit-down restaurant in addition to social lounges, meeting/dining rooms, and bars.
Mess halls in the USAF, where unmarried junior enlisted residing in the dormitories are expected to eat, are officially referred to as "dining facilities," but are colloquially called "chow halls," although dining facility workers traditionally take offense at the term.

See also

External links

mess in Norwegian: Messe (militær)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

C ration, Chinese puzzle, Gordian knot, K ration, Rube Goldberg contraption, all sorts, allotment, allowance, amount, arsy-varsiness, assemblage, assortment, baboon, bad job, bag, batch, befoul, befuddlement, benasty, bevue, bewilderment, big end, bigger half, bind, bit, bitch up, bite, blemish, blot, blow, blunder, board, bobble, boggle, bollix, bonehead play, boner, boo-boo, botch, botchery, bother, botheration, bread, broad spectrum, budget, bunch, bungle, butt in, cafeteria, can of worms, carrion, chaos, chunk, cloud, clump, clumsy performance, cluster, clutch, clutter, commission, commons, complex, complication, concoction, confuse, confusion, conglomeration, considerable, contaminate, contingent, copse, corrupt, corruption, count, crop, crunch, cut, dally, dandruff, daze, deal, decay, defile, derange, destiny, destroy, difficulty, dilemma, dine, dinette, dining car, dining hall, dining room, dining saloon, dirty, disarrange, disarrangement, disarray, discombobulation, discomfiture, discomposure, disconcertion, dishevel, dislocate, disorder, disorganization, disorganize, disorientation, disturbance, dividend, dog, dole, doodle, dose, embarrassing position, embarrassment, emergency rations, end, entertainment, equal share, error, etourderie, excrement, eyesore, farrago, fate, feed, fiasco, field rations, filth, fine how-do-you-do, fix, flirt, flub, fluff, flummox, flunk, flurry, fluster, flutter, fodder, fog, fool around, foozle, forage, foul, foul matter, foul up, foul-up, frenzy, fright, fuddle, fuddlement, fumble, furfur, gallimaufry, gangrene, gargoyle, gaucherie, gob, gobs, good deal, goof up, grass, gratify, graze, great deal, group, grouping, groupment, grove, gum up, hag, half, halver, harridan, hash, hassock, haze, heap, heaps, hell to pay, helping, helter-skelter, higgledy-piggledy, hobble, hodgepodge, hot water, hotchpot, hotchpotch, how-do-you-do, hunk, hysteron proteron, imbroglio, infect, interest, interfere with, intervene, jam, jumble, jungle, kettle of fish, knot, labyrinth, large amount, lashings, litter, loads, lot, lots, louse up, lump, magpie, mash, mass, maze, meal, meals, meander, measure, meat, meddle with, medley, meed, melange, mesh, mess around, mess hall, mess up, mess with, messroom, mingle-mangle, mint, misarrange, miscellany, miscue, mishmash, mist, mistake, mix, mix-up, mixed bag, mixture, modicum, moiety, monster, monstrosity, morass, much, muck, muck up, mucus, muddle, muddlement, muff, mull, muss, muss up, nasty, no beauty, number, obscenity, odds and ends, off day, olio, olla podrida, omnium-gatherum, oodles, ordure, pack, parcel, parlous straits, part, pass, pasticcio, pastiche, pasture, patchwork, peck, percentage, perplex, perplexity, perturbation, philander, pickle, piece, pile, piles, pinch, play, plight, pollute, portion, pot, pother, potpourri, potter, power, predicament, pretty pass, pretty pickle, pretty predicament, proportion, provision, pucker, puddle, pull to pieces, pus, putrid matter, putter, quagmire, quandary, quantity, quantum, quicksand, quite a little, quota, raft, rafts, rake-off, ration, rations, ravel, refection, refectory, refreshment, regale, regalement, repas, repast, restaurant, rot, ruffle, ruin, rumple, run around, sad work, salad, salle a manger, salmagundi, satisfy, sauce, scads, scarecrow, scatter, scramble, scrape, screw up, screw-up, scurf, scuz, seduce, segment, shambles, share, shock, short commons, shuffle, sight, sleep around, slew, slews, slice, slime, slip, slough, small amount, small share, smorgasbord, smut, snafu, snake pit, snarl, snot, sordes, spate, spot, spread, squeeze, stack, stacks, stake, stew, sticky wicket, stock, stook, strait, straits, stumble, sully, sum, sustain, swamp, sweat, swivet, table, taint, tamper with, tangle, tangled skein, tarnish, teratism, thicket, tidy sum, tight spot, tight squeeze, tightrope, tinker, tizzy, topsy-turviness, topsy-turvydom, tousle, toy, treat, tricky spot, trifle, trip, trouble, tucker, tuft, tumble, turmoil, turn upside down, tussock, ugly duckling, unholy mess, unsettlement, untidiness, upset, wad, wads, washout, webwork, welter, what you will, wheels within wheels, whole slew, wilderness, wine and dine, wisp, witch, wreck, wreckage
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