Reference > Brewer’s Dictionary > Mess = 4.

E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Mess = 4.
Nares says because “at great dinners … the company was usually arranged into fours.” That four made a mess is without doubt. Lyly expressly says, “Foure makes a messe, and we have a messe of masters” (Mother Bombie, ii. 1). Shakespeare calls the four sons of Henry his “mess of sons” (2 Henry VI., act f. 4); and “Latine,” English, French, and Spanish are called a “messe of tongues” (Vocabulary, 1617). Again, Shakespeare says (Love’s Labour’s Lost, iv. 3), “You three fools lacked me … to make up the mess.” Though four made a mess, yet it does not follow that the “officer’s mess” is so called, as Nares says, because “the company was arranged into fours,” for the Anglo-Saxon mese, like the Latin mensa = table, mes Gothic = dish, whence Benjamin’s mess, a mess of pottage, etc.   1
   Mess, meaning confusion or litter, is the German mischen, to mix; our word mash.   2



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