A mess is, of course, a confused jumble, or something in a dirty or untidy state. It is also the place where members of the armed forces meet to eat and socialise. Given the emphasis that the military place on tidiness and order, it is highly unlikely that a mess will be in a mess.
Originally mess meant a portion of food. This came from the Old French mes, "a dish", which in turn comes from the Latin missus, strictly "to put, send" but which could also mean "a course at a meal". The word for the meal became in time transferred to the place where the meal was eaten.
Mess, in the sense of "meal", changed slightly to mean a liquid or pulpy meal, as in the mess of pottage for which Esau sold his birthright to Jacob in the Bible. The "untidy" meaning of mess evolved from this, presumably because the eaters looked upon such meals with some disdain. No doubt various disparaging remarks were made about the provenance of the mysterious ingredients and the cook's skills!
Arnie, that is really interesting. I did a little surfing on the net to see if I could find anything more, and I couldn't even find out this much. In fact, My Oxford's Etymology book only discussed mess in terms of food, though at the very end of the discussion there is a reference to "make a mess of".
To me, the most common definition of mess is an untidy state. Are there many words where the common meaning is much different from the original meaning?
"Girl" at one time meant a child of either sex. Boys were "knave girls" and girls were " gay girls". (Wicked Words by Hugh Rawson, Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1989, ISBN 0-517-59089-1 and OED Online, definition 1 at http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/00094868?query_type=word&queryword=girl&edition=2e&first=1&max_to_show=10&sort_type=alpha&search_id=8KGN-MfiFq8-368&hilite=00094868)
Words like mess have been called auto-antonyms, contronyms, antagonyms and Janus words (from the Roman god of doorways, who looks both ways).
Another example is scan, which means "to examine in detail", but which is taken by many people to mean "look at quickly". This is probably because it is used in the TV and related industries for the passage of the electron beam across the tube. The beam moves fast and very accurately, but many think only of the first characteristic.
Then there is sanction, which can either mean a threatened penalty for disobeying a law or rule, or official permission or approval for an action. Yet another example is cleave, which can either mean to split something, or to stick fast to it.
Do those words mean antonyms of antonyms, so to speak? They weren't in my dictionary. Someone asked me the other day if there was a synonym for antonym....
But what is a synonym for synonym?
Rhymezone (www.rhyme.lycos.com) lists "equivalent word".
Wordsmythe (www.wordsmyth.net) has this to say about "synonym":
Part of Speech noun
Pronunciation sI nE nIm
Definition 1. a word having the same or nearly the same meaning as another word of the same language.
Example "Abundant" and "copious" are synonyms. (Cf. antonym.)
Definition 2. a word or expression accepted as symbolizing or conveying the same concept as another.
Example "The sword" became a synonym for "war".
Synonyms symbol (1)
Derived Forms synonymic, adj. ; synonymical, adj. ; synonymity, n.
I've never heard that second definition before.
Rhymezone lists "opposite" and "opposite word" as synonyms for "antonym", while wordsmyth lists "opposite", "antithesis", "contrary" and "converse".
quote:Not exactly. They mean words that have (at least) two meanings, which are opposed to each other. So far as I know they are simply nonce words, coined once but not picked up in the wider world. That's why you won't find them in a dictionary.
Including mess as one is a bit of a stretch, as its meanings are not really diametrically opposed. A soldier's mess is, however, highly unlikely to be messy.
OK, arnie, tell us about shambles. It's certainly changed meaning with time.
Thanks, arnie and Tinman for the elucidation. I do agree with you, Tinman, that I have never heard of definition 2 for synonym, either. "Sword" being a synonym for "war"? Does that mean many years ago? I sure don't see that now.
The modern meaning of shambles is a synonym for mess. However, according to AHD it has only had that meaning since the twentieth century. The first recorded use in that sense was in 1926.
A shambles before then meant a place where meat is butchered and sold, and figuratively, a place where blood had been shed. Jack the Ripper would have caused a shambles by carving up his victims.
The AHD tells me that it comes from the Latin word scamnum, "a stool or bench serving as a seat, step, or support for the feet, for example." How that evolved into the medieval shamel, meaning a butcher's shop, is not explained by them.
It dates back at least to biblical times. The third definition in the AHD for "sword" is,
a. The use of force, as in war.
b. Military power or jurisdiction.
The AHD (www.dictionary.com) gives other quotes.
The biblical quote I recall using "sword" as a metaphor for war is from Micah 4:3:
"And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (http://www.blueletterbible.org/tmp_dir/words/1031978593-4699.html#about)
"Ain' Go'n' To Study War No Mo'" is a negro spiritual used as a work song (The American Songbag by Carl Sandburg, 1927). Sandburg's version of the first verse goes like this:
I'm go'n' to lay down my sword and shield, I'm go'n' to lay down my sword and shield,
Down by de ribber-side, down by de ribber-side, I'm go'n' lay down my sword and shield.
I ain't go'n' to study war no mo', I ain't go'n study war no mo', I ain't go'n' study war no mo', I ain't go'n' study war no mo'.
Sandburg sings some of the songs from his book, but I don't remember if he sang this one. You may be able to find "Carl Sandburg sings his American Songbag" in the library.
A related term is "saber rattling", which means "a flamboyant display of military power" or "a threat or implied threat to use military force." (AHD-www.dictionary.com)
Does that sound familiar?
The Bible uses "swords" and "plowshares" as symbols of war and peace. In economics class I learned "guns or butter".
Tinman says, "The biblical quote I recall using 'sword' as a metaphor for war is from Micah 4:3." I was about say that the passage is rather from Isaiah. But on checking, I find that Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3 are almost identical -- which I'd not known. In the King James Version:
Tinman, thanks for the enlightenment, and Shufitz, those quotes are amazingly similar!
Maybe I am being picky, but here is the question. While certainly I see in those quotes that sword is a symbol of war, I don't see that it is a synonym of war. Am I way off base?
I did a little scrambling and found that metonymy is the term for this sort of figure of speech. According to the on-line Glossary of Linguistic Terms (paraphrased a bit):
Thanks, Shufitz. You are always there for me!
Yes, shufitz, this is metonymy. In fact, it is a type of metonym called a synecdoche, where the name of the part is substituted for that of the whole (e.g. 'hand' for worker) or by naming some more comprehensive entity of which it is a part (e.g. 'the law' for a police officer)
Sooooo, if the addage allows for equal insertion of either
'war' or 'sword', with the exact same meaning, which catagory does:
-He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.-