Origin of the term "messhall"

Anybody know where the term “Messhall” came from?

I suspect it’s the obvious: a hall that everybody eats in that becomes a mess after meals. My dad is convinced that there must be a story behind the term. Anybody know the facts?

Well, anyone who has ever had the misfortune to eat C-rations will not find the association between military food and “mess” surprising :slight_smile: However, the use of “mess” for a portion of food or consuming it goes back to Middle English (it’s derived, via French, from Latin mittere, “to place”; a “mess” is the food placed on the table). “Messhall” is a bit redundant (a “mess” in more recent years has been a place where ones eats), and probably goes back only to WWII.

Well ‘mess hall’ goes back a little further, looks like the Civil War.

From http://www.m-w.com

"Main Entry: mess hall
Function: noun
Date: 1862
: a hall or building (as on an army post) in which mess is served "
“Etymology: Middle English mes, from Middle French, from Late Latin missus course at a meal, from missus, past participle of mittere to put, from Latin, to send – more at SMITE
Date: 14th century
1 : a quantity of food: a archaic : food set on a table at one time b : a prepared dish of soft food; also : a mixture of ingredients cooked or eaten together c : enough food of a specified kind for a dish or a meal <picked a mess of peas for dinner>
2 a : a group of persons who regularly take their meals together; also : a meal so taken b : a place where meals are regularly served to a group : MESS HALL”

[slight hijack]

Don’t go around calling it a messhall anymore or else you’ll be doing push-ups till the cows come home. It is called a DFAC now (short for Dining Facility).

[/slight hijack]

It probably goes back well before that. The 1862 reference is from a book by Gen. George Strong, Cadet Life at West Point. Seems like a logical term that was probably in use for a while before Strong wrote it down.

It came from WW2, and it was the length of an ammo belt loaded on to aircraft machine guns.

No, wait. Nevermind.

So when Jethro Bodine said, “I’m gonna have me a whole mess o’ greens!” - that’s what he meant! I learn the coolest stuff here.

Senses a and c–especially c–are still fairly common in rural Louisiana (where I grew up); sense a is mostly heard from the older folks, generally the ones with a more Cajun background. Sense c is in general, although inconsistent, use. Both seem more prevalent in the southern parts of the state. It may be that the Cajun influence has caused the usage to linger.

Also note the reference in the Bible (KJV, I would suspect) to Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage. Once the term “mess” was applied to food, it was only a matter of time before a dining facility became a “mess hall”.

Chronos The King James Version of 1611 didn’t have the phrase. It was used in the Geneva Bible of 1560 in phrases at the beginning of a chapter which summarized the text following. It then came into use in common parlance. From Geneva Bible

From this site it is learned that the term mess indicating a small group of people eating together comes about in 15th Century. Don’t know the source they use.

As Akatsukami points out, the connection between ‘mess’ and food is an old one. Basically it meant a single portion, although confusingly it was a single portion shared between more than one person.

But when did this become linked to dining halls for soldiers? This I suspect is going to be much more recent, if only because the idea that an army ought to provide formal dining facilities for its troops, rather than expect them to make their own arrangements, is a relatively modern one. An origin any earlier than the nineteenth century seems unlikely.

AFKN (Armed Forces Korean Network) here insists, on TV, that the term “mess” comes from the Roman Legions… I don’t recall the details, and the damn commercial telling the story has refused to come on for the past several hours, so no cite or further Info. for now…

As far as I remember, from half paying attention to the “commercial” (armed forces networks gets shows from the US free… with the provision that they play no commercials for products. The shows, however, come WITH the commercial spaces pre-inserted; meaning that AFN has to come up with public-service announcements, informational announcements, etc. to fill the space… leading to various DUMB stuff to fill the commercial spaces: “It’s cold during the winter: wear a coat!” and “It’s hot during the summer: drink lots of water!” things of this sort…); the name “mess” comes from a Latin word. (maybe ‘mesa’ meaning table?)

This is all coming from my VERY faulty memory… if the infomercial about the word “mess” comes on again soon, I’ll re-post…

See posts by funneefarmer and myself above. The earliest written reference to mess-hallthat I know of is the 1862 cite. The actual quote is:

It seems like Gen. Strong expected his readers to understand the term. I agree that mess-hall probably does not go back before the 19th century.

Astroboy, it would not surprise me that the Romans had a term for the place where soldiers ate. It wouldn’t surprise me if many cultures did. The English term mess-hall, however, is not a translation of whatever Latin term the Romans used, but formed of two separate English words. The etymology of mess that funneefarmer posted from M-W (which matches the OED) shows that mess comes ultimately from the Latin verb mittere meaning “to put.” It’s not related to mesa which comes from the Latin mensa. Hall comes from Old Teutonic halla with the root meaning “to cover, conceal.”