Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hot mess

Elaine and I were idly wondering about the origin of the expression hot mess . And lookit: Emily Brewster of Merriam-Webster explains.

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

No one wonders idly. I wondered not idly about the journal and text as cited by Emily Brewster as from 1899, when the date is found from a year earlier. The poem which followed was interesting though Ms. Brewster did not allow the viewer to see more. Curiosity struck.

From P. J. Conlon's text about the public's perception of strikes in Illinois and Missouri and those issues surrounding said strikes from the "Machinists' Monthly Quarterly" of 1898:

"It is therefore the tactics of the employer to at once rush into print with an ex parte statement of the cause of the strike, and, if possible, poison the minds of the public against the workmen. But if the dear public would only stop to consider the seriousness of the affair to the average worker and dwell upon the fact that his income has been cut off, and his little children and wife suffer with the workman. That before submitting to such a condition there must have been something radically wrong with the conditions under which he was working. I say if they would only stop to consider this before forming an opinion perhaps the wage-earners might win; but no, they believe everything they see in the newspapers. If the newspaper says the sky is painted with green chalk that is what goes. Verily, I say unto you, the public is a hot mess. It reminds me of a little poem I once heard, and will herewith quote:

A little boy, while leaning down to drink,
Fell In a stream, and soon began to sink;
A man in passing heard him as he cried
For aid, and, running to the river side,
Began to scold the boy with all his might
For getting into such a dangerous plight.
'Oh! save me— save me first!' the child replied,
'And then there will be time enough to chide'."

Is the public a hot mess? What is the hot mess changes from time to time, month to month. 'Save first, chide later' seems to have been so often inverted with name calling such that facts are obscured by the noise and tensions of some hot mess -- the public itself.

Given that Conlon counseled that newspapers should not be so easily believed, for the public as that hot mess is only made hotter by the "green chalk" of any year from before 1898 until years from now. Today's green chalk comes in many colors and flavors and Armageddon is not arrived. In Conlon's time, ironically, Pulitzer had his child labor issues. Now the name means an award to those apparently still writing about green chalk skies. And the public is still a hot mess.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for sharing what you found. For anyone curious to see the source, it’s at the Internet Archive.