Definition of mess in US English:



  • 1A dirty or untidy state of things or of a place.

    ‘she made a mess of the kitchen’
    ‘my hair was a mess’
    • ‘Clothes were ripped and torn, and hair was a mess - just like life.’
    • ‘On the other hand, if you are the sort who makes a major mess of the kitchen whenever you cook anything or even when you make a cup of tea, then skip the breakfast in bed part.’
    • ‘It's probably because just the other day whilst struggling through the mess of the kitchen cupboard I found the bonnet he gave me.’
    • ‘It looked a mess, buildings trashed and fires burning all that the townspeople held dear.’
    • ‘I don't want to talk to anyone, see anyone, do anything, My hair is a mess.’
    • ‘The art of being a successful lazy blighter is to be organised, so the mess which is my reel collection box is only a mess to other people.’
    • ‘Go to Paddy's shed to avoid making a mess of the kitchen.’
    • ‘The kitchen is a mess and I walked in, took one look around and walked out.’
    • ‘Each time you host a party at home, it's a total mess in the kitchen due to last minute preparations.’
    • ‘The room was in a mess, and there was already a thin layer of dust on the floor as if no one had cleaned it for several days.’
    • ‘A man is sitting in an armchair, papers in an untidy mess strewn all around and a lap-top sits on a coffee table in front of him, blinking in anticipation of future commands.’
    • ‘Residents in Jaywick claim parts of their village are a mess as recycling bags have not been collected for weeks.’
    • ‘Great Victoria Street is a mess, but the cluster of buildings around the Europa Hotel is a large chunk of the city centre.’
    • ‘We stocked up on cornflour, hoping it was the same thing, then proceeded to make one hell of a mess all over my kitchen’
    • ‘Like mess in a kitchen in a shared house - they just appeared, and I don't know where they came from.’
    • ‘He began to clean his hair, which was a mess of dirty tangles.’
    • ‘The room was a mess; it was like a robber had been in the place.’
    • ‘His room was a complete mess, and it didn't surprise her, but it was still gross all the same.’
    • ‘Soon, her almost naked body was a mess of food grease and sauces.’
    • ‘We don't make a mess in the kitchen and we're mostly out of the library anyway.’
    untidiness, disorder, disarray, clutter, heap, shambles, litter, tangle, jumble, muddle, mishmash, chaos, confusion, disorganization, turmoil
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 A thing or collection of things causing an untidy or dirty state.
      ‘she replaced the jug and mopped up the mess’
      • ‘Yet she continued fighting her way through the vines and was soon out of the tangled mess concealing it's entrance.’
      • ‘Over a number of years, the weakened structure has collapsed further, leaving a tangled mess of debris, including the aft mast and superstructure.’
      • ‘He started mopping up the mess and picking up pieces of glass.’
      • ‘Clearly not big enough for one, let alone TWO people to sleep on, Mitch and Jess laid in a tangled mess on the loveseat.’
      • ‘They all toppled on top of one another, a tangled mess of arms and legs.’
      • ‘The truth dawned when, as he mopped up the bloody mess, he heard the familiar voice of his wife calling from upstairs.’
      • ‘Mr Bond said that before the council collected the mess this week it was piled five feet high against the wall of the flats.’
      • ‘She grabbed a bundle of tissues from a tissue box and tried to mop up the mess.’
      • ‘Then without a word headed over to the tangled mess where I assumed he had been sleeping and retrieved a pillow and one of the sheets.’
      • ‘Just wait it out while your boys mop up the mess.’
      • ‘Mr. Sims, the drama teacher, crawled on the floor, trying to collect the mess.’
      • ‘I looked at the tangled mess, and then felt a rough bump.’
      • ‘Well, as the hurricane gathers strength and mulls where to strike next, South Florida is left with a mess to mop up.’
      • ‘It fell on a telephone pole and TV cables making them a tangled mess.’
      • ‘As Kit hit a chair, it buckled and warped till it was a tangled mess.’
      • ‘Papers and diagrams were scattered over the surface in a tangled mess, and from where he lay propped up on one elbow on his bed, Carson wondered how they could make any progress.’
      • ‘Dog bins were to be specially built and extra money put towards collection of the mess.’
      • ‘With a soft sigh, Shanza began sorting through the scattered mess of what may have been his herb collection.’
      • ‘And then last night I spilt a glass of beer on my desk and had to grab about a ton of stuff off it and throw it on the floor so that I could mop up the mess.’
      • ‘Residents of Speedwell Road, Old Heath, were disgusted after Colchester Council refuse collectors left the mess in their wake yesterday morning.’
    2. 1.2 A person who is dirty or untidy.
      ‘I look a mess’
      • ‘I want to ride every hour of the waking day, but after a month of riding, just an hour turns me into a sweating, out-of-breath, pathetic mess.’
      • ‘Two nights and three days on a smoky train, I was a real mess by the time I got to Matagorda.’
      • ‘I want to swim but I look a mess in a bathing costume - what do I do?’
      • ‘She looked like a real mess, her long hair all spread around, her make up destroyed, giving her the look of a monster.’
    3. 1.3with modifier Used euphemistically to refer to the excrement of a domestic animal.
      ‘dog mess’
      • ‘If I was to be caught not cleaning up after my dogs, I would be obliged to pay a fine, yet the bins provided for disposing of dog mess are constantly overflowing causing a disgusting stench.’
      • ‘Since attention has been drawn to dog fouling there has been no dog mess in the verge.’
      • ‘Police say he is responsible for pushing dog mess through letterboxes, smashing windows, damaging cars, pelting people with eggs and assaulting other youngsters.’
      • ‘‘My children walk to school down that lane and there's nothing worse than standing in dog mess,’ he added.’
      • ‘She highlighted two hazards that could easily be removed without the help of any local authorities or without spending any money: dog mess left in the streets and cars parked on the pavements.’
      • ‘So far she has collected bin bags full of rubbish, including engine oil and rat poison containers, bags of used disposable nappies and dog mess.’
      • ‘Frustrated Kirkby Stephen town councillors have again appealed to the public to help curb the growing problem of littering and dog mess in the area.’
      • ‘Bosses at the council are warning that a number of blitzes have already been carried out around the borough, and owners caught not clearing up their dog mess will be prosecuted.’
      • ‘The eggs in dog mess are not infectious for at least two weeks and there is no risk for the owners who clear up straight away.’
      • ‘According to a couple who spoke to Coun Kaye about dog mess, he told them as he left: ‘You can't educate the working class.’’
      • ‘A new poster campaign, warning that leaving litter and dog mess on the street is an offence, has also gone on display at key poster sites and on the city's Supertram.’
      • ‘The town council asked for the dog warden to spend more time in the town after it received numerous complaints from residents that dog mess was spoiling the environment.’
      • ‘His catalogue of crimes is appalling: assaults on other children, dog mess through letterboxes, vandalism.’
      • ‘Cricklade Town Council issued a warning to dog owners after receiving numerous complaints that pavements and grass verges were littered with dog mess.’
      • ‘A quarter of this is spent on cleaning up dog mess.’
      • ‘He writes regularly to the council on environmental issues and has now turned lobbyist on the issue that most annoys him - dog mess along Rochdale Canal.’
      • ‘The remaining hounds were staging a ‘static protest’ with their owners, to avoid a mountain of dog mess being produced on the promenade.’
      • ‘Like me, most bereaved people would regard a shrine in a roadside verge, often festooned with litter and dog mess and shrouded in vehicle fumes, as anything but a fitting memorial.’
      • ‘One parent was particularly upset after her four-year-old daughter stepped in dog mess on the way to school and then rode her bike over some the next day.’
      • ‘One said that the problem of dog mess had been overshadowed by abandoned condoms, empty alcohol containers and remnants of glue sniffing, which had been left of the recreation field.’
      excrement, dung, muck, faeces, excreta, dirt
      View synonyms
  • 2A situation or state of affairs that is confused or full of difficulties.

    ‘the economy is still in a terrible mess’
    • ‘Because of that, there was such a mess for the select committee to sort out that we were left with this document full of changes.’
    • ‘No government should ever be given direct responsibility for funding the arts - it is bound to make a mess of it.’
    • ‘At this stage, there is a real mess out there in local government in respect of aquaculture reform.’
    • ‘Our health service is a mess, all we hear is McCreevy and Martin arguing over money.’
    • ‘They already knew that the giant had feet of clay: a government that can make such a mess of a minor colonial war can also make a mess of disaster relief.’
    • ‘The situation is a mess, and a confusing one, but there is no point in even talking about changing it.’
    • ‘The current constitutional situation is a mess, and he's not making it any better.’
    • ‘The French and other Continentals would always make a mess of things.’
    • ‘We have developed our own minds but deep down we stick to the collective mess that we have called society or culture.’
    • ‘At least this should zap Karnataka into action and make it do something to stop coalition politics make a mess of a project that could put Bangalore in the big league.’
    • ‘But when intellectuals decide to improve the world they inevitably make a mess of it.’
    • ‘Regardless of the format, they will make a mess of things.’
    • ‘‘The only risk is if the Government make a mess of things and the stadium is not completed as planned,’ said Mr Hobbs.’
    • ‘Overwhelmingly, it's the taxpayer mopping up the mess as obsolete computers are dumped into the municipal waste stream.’
    • ‘So we have a former foreign Minister, now a trade Minister, overseas with Mr Peters, mopping up the mess and bagging him at the same time.’
    • ‘She also claimed that she had got behind with the banking and the money situation got in a mess because of developments in her own family life.’
    • ‘It'll make a mess of it if you put it into the Middle East equation as well.’
    • ‘It's obvious to me that charity does not begin at home anymore, and it does not matter who we elect to run this country, they will make a mess of it anyway.’
    • ‘If Campbell is really so powerful, why hasn't he put a stop to the current mess (and erased the masses' memories while he's at it)?’
    • ‘And, when it comes to your finances, courage is often needed to admit mistakes and begin mopping up a financial mess.’
    plight, predicament, emergency, tight spot, tight corner, difficulty, straits, trouble, quandary, dilemma, problem, muddle, mix-up, confusion, complication, imbroglio, entanglement, mire
    muddle, botch, bungle, wreck
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    1. 2.1 A person whose life or affairs are confused or troubled.
      ‘he needs treatment of some kind—he's a real mess’
      • ‘It shows that young Leftists are a real psychological mess - with VERY unhappy childhoods.’
      • ‘All through my pregnancy I was so scared that I would lose it; I was in a real mess.’
      • ‘Her boyfriend's just dumped her, she's a real mess.’
      • ‘Where do you even start with such a tangled mess of a human being?’
  • 3A portion of semisolid or pulpy food, especially one that looks unappetizing.

    ‘a mess of mashed black beans and rice’
    • ‘Now she was doing something very fast with her hands and a mess of wet herbs, and slapping it onto the wound, ignoring the scream of her patient.’
    • ‘He declared that the Boudin Blanc from Safeway was better than the mushy mess of sausage he'd been presented with.’
    • ‘A pair of the triangular vegetable pastries, each cut in half with the whole thing covered in a big mess of tomato, yogurt and chickpeas, this is quite an addictive dish.’
    • ‘A foamy mess of soggy bread floated on top of a thick orange liquid.’
    • ‘Mrs YS opted for a pizza with onion, mushroom and pepperoni, what a soggy mess.’
    • ‘This sounds simple enough but the deeper flavours of the black cherries married magically with the creamy mess and light brioche bread.’
    • ‘There are no difficult aesthetic considerations, unless you're fussy about the very idea of sharing a mess of melted cheese, or the floury taste of underdone sundried tomato loaf.’
    • ‘The manager looks at my plate - a mess of crumbled bread and glistening meat - and says Can I Help You in a tone that blames me for living.’
    • ‘I would stand there, shocked, drag a finger across the mess and slip it into my mouth to see what you gave me.’
    mash, mush, purée, cream, pressé, pap, slop, paste, slush, mulch, swill, slurry, semi-liquid, semi-fluid
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  • 4A building or room in which members of the armed forces take their meals; mess hall.

    ‘the sergeants' mess’
    • ‘You can assign me to clean the latrine or peel potatoes in the army mess, and I will be deriving a science out of it.’
    • ‘The building will also house a mess room, locker rooms, kitchen, offices and an education suite complete with computer and reference books.’
    • ‘The trainers were with the trainees almost the full day, beginning with PT in the morning before joining them for breakfast in the mess.’
    • ‘All the troops deny fixing anything overtly military and praise the excellent and pre-killed food the mess serves.’
    • ‘‘We can opt to eat at the mess or cook our own food at home,’ says Mr. Kamath.’
    • ‘They were often blamed for eating all the sandwiches before the other officers returned to mess at night.’
    1. 4.1 A meal taken there.


  • 1with object Make untidy or dirty.

    ‘you've messed up my beautiful carpet’
    • ‘I watched Danny's fingers as they trailed through my hair, completely messing my hairstyle, which had taken hours to do.’
    • ‘The sun hurts your eyes, you cherish the wind which messes your hair, and you go out in just a light jacket even though it is 2°C.’
    • ‘Shortly afterwards, while Mr Atkinson was talking to another man, someone tapped him on the back of his head and messed his hair.’
    • ‘Insert a straw and you can drink it without spilling or messing your clothes.’
    • ‘He runs his hand through his hair, messing it even more up.’
    • ‘Father nagged playfully, messing my hair again.’
    • ‘My eyes were bloodshot and my black hair was messed beyond imagination.’
    • ‘He was loosening his tie as he spoke, messing his hair, making himself more party-worthy.’
    • ‘Michael smiled and patted his sister in the head, messing her hair.’
    • ‘Her short black hair was messed a little, a big black bow placed on the side of her head, holding strands back.’
    • ‘The action of messing my hair earned him a deep glare.’
    • ‘I walked to her and messed her hair, ‘good morning.’’
    • ‘I have a great aunt named Sally, who always meant well, but was constantly messing things up. and overstaying her welcome.’
    • ‘Maybe the ice storm messed stuff up last year and now all the houses have roach-sized gaps where there were none before.’
    • ‘He pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head, messing his already messy black hair.’
    • ‘Hauser is about as bland as they come, robotically experiencing happiness, pain, and anger without ever messing his dyed hair or wrinkling his smoothed face.’
    • ‘Still can't work out how to make a new bit at the side for books CD's and so on without messing everything else up, but I'll get back to it and you might be pleasantly surprised.’
    • ‘She messed my already disorderly hair with her fingers.’
    • ‘‘That's what I said too’ Kenny gave a short grin and placed his hand over my head to mess my hair more.’
    • ‘Rex took another bite of his sandwich and messed Corio's hair.’
    dirty, befoul, litter, besmirch, pollute
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    1. 1.1no object (of a domestic animal) defecate.
      ‘they had some problems with dogs messing in the store’
      • ‘A member of Craven's dog control panel, Coun Polly English said: ‘If anyone sees a dog messing and they know the owner let me know and I will pass it on.’’
      • ‘Hundreds of England flags stuck to stationary cars fluttered sadly and ignored, like puppies who had been chastised for messing on the carpet.’
      • ‘In that case, let's use the laws of the land and fine the horse owners every time their horses mess the streets.’
      • ‘She mocks anyone who considers cats to be a nuisance, and thinks it is acceptable for cats to mess in other people's private gardens.’
      • ‘The very fact the woman had to run the gauntlet of traffic and pigeons messing on her is proof alone she is not experiencing a level playing field.’
      • ‘I have written to your letters page before trying to shame a lady dog walker who persistently allowed her dog to mess outside my house.’
      • ‘Can we expect every minor misdemeanour like littering and dog messing to result in a police helicopter hovering over head!’
      • ‘Crows, seagulls, collared doves, magpies, and large flocks of starlings - all squawking, hooting and messing on everyone's property.’
      • ‘Dogs mess in the wrong places and somebody has to clean up.’
      • ‘The older guys used to say, as a compliment, that Frankie was so good, if a fly messed on the music score he could read and play that too.’
      • ‘So Hazel does not like horses messing in the street, fearing a health hazard, but she drives a car.’
      • ‘If planning permission were granted, then there is the age-old chestnut of any memorial being vandalised or messed upon by pigeons.’
      • ‘A parish councillor has decided enough is enough and is declaring war on dog owners who allow their pets to mess in public places.’
      • ‘On one occasion we even offered a plastic bag to the owner of a Labrador whose dog had messed in the field, and all we got was a lot of abusive language!’
    2. 1.2 Make dirty by defecating.
      ‘he feared he would mess the bed’
      • ‘In fact, I am so frightened, I fear I might just mess my pants!’
      • ‘Is it a strategy to not mess one's own pants?’
      • ‘When he sees a muzzle-flash in his vision, he messes his pants before he falls dead or wounded.’
      • ‘Everyone was naked as they were born; they were vomiting and messing themselves at the same time,’ Verna said.’
  • 2no object, with adverbial Take one's meals in a particular place or with a particular person, especially in an armed forces' mess.

    ‘I messed at first with Harry, who was to become a lifelong friend’
    ‘they messed together’


  • make a mess

    • Create a dirty or untidy state.

      ‘all the eggs broke and made a mess’
      • ‘A responsible adult knows that if you make a mess, you're expected to clean it up, regardless if anyone compliments you for your efforts.’
      • ‘We can do whatever we want as long as we don't make a mess or at least clean up after ourselves.’
      • ‘When someone else makes a mess, Brad will hunt down whoever did it and make that person clean up the mess.’
      • ‘The triplets love painting and making a mess.’
      • ‘Lots of times, he knocks part of the food out of the cage and it makes a mess on the floor.’
      • ‘Nothing makes a mess quicker than trying to cut meat with a knife.’
      • ‘While you harvested a ton of apples, you still ended up with lots rotting on the ground, attracting yellow jackets and making a mess.’
      • ‘The cooks could serve a similar dish to the spaghetti but with short pasta, which is less likely to make a mess.’
      • ‘He's going to leave his clothes everywhere and make a mess.’
      • ‘She berated me for making a mess in the living room.’
  • make a mess of

    • 1Ruin or spoil (something)

      ‘he ends up making a mess of the story’
      • ‘Contracting and placement agencies have this nice habit of taking the perfect resume that you spent hours on and totally making a mess of it.’
      • ‘The outfits doing the censoring are re-working the movies however they see fit, which the directors claim can make a mess of their work.’
      • ‘She dismisses him as the kind of person who makes a mess of everything.’
      • ‘I sighed and took a seat next to my baby brother who was eating cheerios with his hands, making a mess of the highchair.’
      • ‘This is one sketch of an idea for the cover of a book about twin sisters, one of whom develops a bad attitude that makes a mess of her life.’
      • ‘I made several pots of coffee, and worked on frying up 2lbs of bacon and making a mess of the eggs.’
      • ‘He's made a mess of his chance to lead the country.’
      • ‘A pig made a mess of his vegetable garden.’
      • ‘In her attempt to pick the glass up, she flipped her plate over, making a mess of food and wine all over the table.’
      • ‘The rain made a mess of our paleontological pursuits.’
      1. 1.1Do (something) very badly or ineptly.
        ‘leaders made a mess of dealing with the aftermath’
        • ‘I grabbed for my camera and made a mess of switching it on.’
        • ‘She made a mess of quitting, and it destroyed her credibility.’
        • ‘Manufacturers are making a mess of implementing the system.’
        • ‘He made a mess of flipping the burgers on his grill.’
        • ‘He made a mess of explaining who would end up paying more tax to fund his promises.’
        • ‘For a long time, the government made a mess of trying to protect science.’
        • ‘The international community repeatedly made a mess of handling the many demands that were made for "humanitarian intervention".’
        • ‘No-one missed the fact that he had made a mess of buttoning on his braces.’
        • ‘The leaders who made a mess of dealing with the aftermath.’
        • ‘She taught him the national anthem so he would not make the same mistake as his predecessor, who famously made a mess of mouthing the words.’
  • mess with someone's head

    • informal Cause someone to feel frustrated, anxious, or upset.

      • ‘So the lack-of-control of this depression is really messing with my head.’
      • ‘I had a weird dream, kind of messing with my head.’
      • ‘He had offseason ankle surgery, and though trainer Dave England says the ankle no longer is bothering Johnson, it may be messing with his head.’
      • ‘Maybe, or maybe she didn't want to say anything because she was messing with my head.’
      • ‘More generally, this is one of those films that messes with your head and requires you to maintain your attention at all times.’
      • ‘You know, anybody who's gone without sleep, even for just one night, knows that it can really sort of, you know, mess with your head.’
      • ‘Writing everything down is messing with my head.’
      • ‘I think there is a real live monkey living in my computer and he messes with my head by dealing me hands that cannot be won.’
      • ‘He was good at messing with her head, that's all.’
      • ‘Were they such a tight couple that they were messing with my head together?’
      trouble, bother, cause anxiety, make anxious, disturb, distress, upset, concern, disquiet, discompose, fret, agitate, unsettle, perturb, frighten, alarm, scare, fluster, flurry, stress, strain, tax, harass, torment, plague, bedevil, besiege, irk, vex
      View synonyms

Phrasal Verbs

  • mess up

    • Mishandle a situation.

      ‘he singled out the health care fiasco as an example of how the government has messed up’
      • ‘If by any chance you land up messing up you need not get perturbed.’
      • ‘It's an extremely messed up situation when one innocent man has to die to protect others.’
      • ‘I had other police agencies say, Look, we don't like to talk about brother cops messing up.’
      • ‘If it all begins with humans messing up, and causing an imperfect world it all ends with Jesus sorting it out, and causing a perfect one!’
      • ‘It messes up your health, screws up your lungs and eats you away inside.’
      • ‘It just messes up an already messed up situation.’
      • ‘Plane by plane, city by city, the weather is really messing up the works when it comes to airline travel today.’
      • ‘Simply because were constantly messing up the board and starting over again.’
      • ‘Which is ridiculous, we won that war in every way possible, its the after-war we're messing up.’
      • ‘Unfortunately policy makers hardly learn from the backlash of their own messing up with complicated social issues.’
      mismanage, mishandle, misdirect, misgovern, misconduct, bungle, botch, fluff, fumble, mess up, mar, spoil, ruin, wreck
      View synonyms
  • mess someone up

    • 1Cause someone emotional or psychological problems.

      ‘I was unhappy and really messed up’
      • ‘This movie gave me the great insight that the way you get over an obsession is to shift your focus towards your parents, or the people who messed you up as a child, and try to forgive them.’
      • ‘As even the teen recognizes, it will just mess him up emotionally.’
      • ‘Even with all the rhetoric about mothers and daughters, what the film seems to be saying is that women in your life will mess you up, and you should just take it.’
      • ‘Anyways, we got in really early, which shows you just how badly the traffic messes you up.’
      • ‘You know it messes me up when I sleep even a minute over.’
      • ‘And when you talk to the officials, they think we're actually trying to bark at them.… It just messes you up.’
      • ‘Plus, we were shooting nights and that messed you up completely because your whole day was upside down.’
      • ‘I usually try to think of what's going on right now, not what's happening next, because that kind of messes me up.’
      • ‘Anorexia and Bulimia are eating disorders that can really mess you up, even kill you!’
      • ‘Working nightshifts really messes him up for a couple of days after it.’
      1. 1.1US Inflict violence or injury on someone.
        ‘the wreck messed him up so much that he can't walk’
        • ‘One thing adults have over kids is an awareness of ways to seriously mess someone up and thus end the fight early.’
        • ‘Don't even start with me, because I will mess you up.’
        • ‘My attitude is mess with me, I mess you up, more or less,’ I said smiling proudly.’
        • ‘You don't mess with me or get in my way, else I'll mess you up.’
        • ‘‘I'm gonna mess you up,’ he said to Rock as they squared off in the final sequence.’
        • ‘The fight with that new watchman really messed him up.’
  • mess something up

    • Cause something to be spoiled by inept handling.

      ‘an error like that could easily mess up an entire day's work’
      • ‘And the thing is, her life is messed up forever and his life is messed up forever.’
      • ‘Jessica figured Michael knew his choreography like the back of his hand to ever mess it up too easily.’
      • ‘The minority are messing it up for the majority who are doing things correctly.’
      • ‘But the thing is, politics in Canada these days are messed up; most of the candidates simply don't deserve our votes, and the major parties certainly don't deserve our money.’
      • ‘He also said he had no problems staying on, but that some of his plans were messed up as a result.’
      • ‘Dennis guessed that if you knew whose house it was, maybe you'd feel worse about messing it up.’
      • ‘If you get nervous you just end up messing things up.’
      • ‘He'd completely ransacked the room, the doors were open, the iron was off the wall, the bed was messed up and he'd used the toilet.’
      • ‘‘It's very stressful,’ Nieh says, ‘because if I mess it up, the magic is spoiled for the audience.’’
      • ‘He has a lot of pride in his work and he doesn't need me messing it up.’
      bungle, botch, fluff, fumble, make a mess of, mismanage, mishandle, misdirect, misgovern, misconduct, mar, spoil, ruin, mangle, wreck
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  • mess with

    • Meddle or interfere with so as to spoil or cause trouble.

      ‘stop messing with things you don't understand’
      • ‘Maybe that would teach her a lesson to stop messing with me.’
      • ‘He would regret messing with me and interfering with the master's plans!’
      • ‘Stop drinking alcohol and coffee - they mess with your brain chemicals.’
      • ‘But Glenda said he stopped messing with her then because he knew she'd call the law on him.’
      • ‘It's what you get when gamers stop blasting aliens for a second and start messing with the narrative.’
      • ‘I want them all to stop messing with what is left of the natural world.’
      • ‘If we're really serious about the nation's health then let's tackle the big issues first and stop messing with the small pleasures of many of our citizens.’
      • ‘You can't mess with these tides, nothing can slow, stop or control them.’
      • ‘Thousands of angry country residents twice marched on London to warn ministers not to mess with their right to hunt.’
      • ‘They all knew that Jordan still liked me, and no guy was going to mess with me if Jordan interfered.’
      interfere, butt in, intrude, intervene, interlope, pry, poke, nose, busybody, interpose, obtrude, thrust
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  • mess around/about

    • 1Behave in a silly or playful way, especially so as to cause irritation.

      • ‘They were laughing and playfully punching each other, just messing around and acting like fools, something the three of them were definitely good at.’
      • ‘We do insist people behave themselves, we don't have any messing around.’
      • ‘All of this background and foreground and senseless surround steals the movie away from its main, simple pleasure: watching a monkey mess around.’
      • ‘His mother had enough trouble in her life without being messed around by some silly little girl.’
      • ‘Well I just thought it was silly girls messing about, that they had been drinking or something so I didn't think twice about it.’
      • ‘We rang and messed around, recording silly messages of witty retorts to various ‘players’.’
      • ‘It's to be hoped teenagers and any other silly fools don't go messing around in there.’
      • ‘The excitement was infectious and the adults too were to be seen sniggering over silly things, and messing about, being boys again.’
      • ‘Well the quality issue is in fact tied to this because once you start messing around on the landscape, you do tend to muck up the quality as well and there are two aspects to this.’
      1. 1.1Spend time doing something in a pleasantly desultory way, with no definite purpose or serious intent.
        ‘messing about in boats’
        • ‘Also, I had spent a happy childhood messing about in boats on the Solent.’
        • ‘My father retired recently and now has all day to spend on that machine messing around in drawing packages and typing stuff in Word.’
        • ‘I spent some time messing around, just to get the feel of it, and I'm learning about things I've never needed to know before (I've always been a simple girl).’
        • ‘There's a feeling of laziness in the air, of days filled with messing around in boats or a touch of gentle fishing, with a beer or two at sunset in some waterside bar.’
        • ‘After a childhood spent messing around on boats, he moved to Italy as a teenager and went on to receive his medical degree.’
        • ‘England as it likes to think of itself - a drowsing landscape occupied by peaceful souls messing about on boats.’
        • ‘Me, all I want today is to do a bit of messing about, in boats, by the river.’
        • ‘Two years later, McCaleb is retired, popping 34 pills a day and spending his time messing around in a boat.’
        • ‘You know, I wrote a story about some children who spent their time messing about in boats in the Lake District.’
        • ‘Except that often they are not respectable at all: some end up as mercenary soldiers; more spend their lives messing around at the seamier end of the business world.’
        potter about, amuse oneself, pass the time, do nothing very much, fiddle about, fiddle around, footle about, footle around, play about, play around, fool about, fool around
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  • mess around/about with

    • 1Interfere with.

      ‘we don't want outsiders messing around with our schools’
      • ‘The second burglary happened when a man knocked on the door and claiming some children had been messing around with roadworks outside.’
      • ‘By the time I'd eaten some brunch, messed around with the computer and done a few other things, outside was almost completely dark, it was only 3: 30 p.m.’
      • ‘Once again Tone seems intent on radically messing around with institutions that, until he interfered, used to function reasonably well.’
      • ‘‘My mum used to say, ‘Stop messing around with bits of paper and pencils and go outside and play with the other children’,’ he recalled.’
      • ‘The man saw someone outside his home in Chelmer Close, Kirby Cross, messing about with his van.’
      • ‘If you want to sell wine as a healthy drink why not put some antioxidants in rather than messing around with the genetic content of grapes?’
      try to improve, try to mend, work amateurishly on, fiddle with, play with, play about with, play around with, toy with, trifle with, dally with, dabble with, potter about with, fool about with, fool around with
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      1. 1.1informal Engage in a sexual relationship with (someone, especially the partner of another person).
        • ‘They are not playing for national pride, they don't want to get injured ahead of important tours for their countries, they've got leggy blonde models to mess around with.’
        • ‘The main distinguishing feature of Lovecraft's Mythos is that anyone who messes around with the occult gets eaten by ghouls, driven insane or turned into a fishman.’
        • ‘They were long and calloused at the fingertips from messing around with a guitar.’
        • ‘And, even with you out of the scene and having (to a degree) accepted that that was the way things were going to be, the few girls that I did mess around with just didn't connect with me.’


Middle English: from Old French mes ‘portion of food’, from late Latin missum ‘something put on the table’, past participle of mittere ‘send, put’. The original sense was ‘a serving of (semiliquid) food’, later ‘liquid food for an animal’; this gave rise (early 19th century) to the senses ‘unappetizing concoction’ and ‘predicament’, on which sense 1 is based. In late Middle English the term also denoted any of the small groups into which the company at a banquet was divided (who were served from the same dishes); hence, ‘a group who regularly eat together’ (recorded in military use from the mid 16th century).