Hot mess? 一团糟

2023-11-24 16:24:12

Reader question:

Please explain “hot mess” in: The situation is, well, a hot mess.

My comments:

The situation where?

The situation in Gaza?

Let’s take the situation in Gaza as an example anyway. If you have been following the news, you’ll understand that the situation there is indeed a hot mess, meaning messy, chaotic and out of control.

As of now, at the time of writing, Hamas and Israel are entering a ceasefire for a few days during which Hamas will release a number of hostages in exchange for an Israeli release of a number of Hamas prisoners.

We hope peace will return as soon as possible but the situation remains grave and messy, not at all clear.

It remains a hot mess.

Hot mess?

“Hot mess” originates from the kitchen, as a matter of fact. Per

The term hot mess originally referred to a mess that was literally hot – mess in this case being related to the kind served in a mess hall. Before it was anything else, mess was a word for a quantity of food. (It traces back to the Late Latin missus, meaning “course at a meal.”) Later it referred to a prepared dish of specifically soft food. And a hot mess was originally a hot dish of such food.

Picture a bowl of hot soup of a mixture of things, meat, beans, vegetable, anything and everything. Such a bowl can look unpleasant and taste bad. If so, then this thick, gloppy and hot thing is literally a hot mess.

From here comes the figurative meaning of hot mess, hot, as in tense, and messy, as in dirty, disorderly.

The situation of Gaza is a hot mess because there is a hot war is going on and because the humanitarian crisis is devastating and out of control. Here, “hot” can be seen as descriptive of an open, all out, fierce and fiery military confrontation while “mess” describes all that’s in chaos and disarray.

We’re here to talk, in the main, about the meaning of “hot mess”, but we hope peace will, somehow, return to Gaza soon.

“Hot mess” can also be used to describe a person, by the way, if that person is in a state of mess and confusion mentally or if they are plunged into messy and muddy relationships. If they personally are hot, as in attractive, then all the better. They’re really a hot mess, that is, hot but disorderly, unable to keep it together.

All right, here are media examples of “hot mess”:

1. To conservatives, the mail has become the Democrats’ new Russia, Russia, Russia. But they’re not thrilled that President Donald Trump is obsessed with it, either.

A fight over the United States Postal Service has become the latest example of a once unglamorous, wonky element of government bureaucracy becoming hyperpolarized in the Trump era. To Democrats and progressives, recently proposed changes to USPS – including slashed overtime and the potential removal of mail-sorting devices – represent a Trump attempt to hamstring and cast doubt on the postal system just before an election that will rely on it. But to Republicans and MAGA world, it’s just another manifestation of liberals’ Trump derangement syndrome.

“A made-for-TV phony political crisis,” proclaimed the often staid editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. “A conspiracy so wicked, so brazen and dangerous, it makes Russiagate look like jaywalking,” inveighed Fox News host Tucker Carlson. “Far-left morons,” declared a headline on the far-right Gateway Pundit, describing the protesters in front of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s house.

This time, however, the fight is not necessarily a rallying cry for conservatives. Longtime conservative postal reform researchers say Trump’s refusal to drop his fact-challenged claims of mail-in voter fraud is actually hurting their cause. And, they add, Trump may even be damaging his standing with voters who rely on the Postal Service, including rural Americans, veterans who get prescriptions by mail and Republicans who vote by mail.

The president has been a wet hot mess on this issue,” said Kevin Kosar, vice president of the right-leaning R Street Institute, who has written about postal reform. “It’s created a lot of needless confusion.”

- ‘Wet hot mess’: How Trump politicized the mail — and angered conservatives,, August 19, 2020.

2. Margaret Whigham was a sensation to British society when she arrived from America as a teenager in the 1920s. The daughter of a textile millionaire, she dazzled with her beauty (green eyes, fair skin, red lipstick), devil-may-care social strategy (she double-booked men for the evening), and nouveau riche accoutrement (she was chauffeured to and from school in a Rolls-Royce, skied at St. Moritz, and wore gowns from Norman Hartnell). Her romances were legend. After a teen dalliance with actor David Niven, she dated Pakistani diplomat Aly Khan, millionaire aviator Glen Kidston, publishing heir Max Aitken, and Prince George, Duke of Kent, before settling down for the first of two marriages. And her exploits – as debutante of the year in 1930 and prolific high-society partygoer – earned her international press coverage and a reference in Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.”

“She was the most photographed woman of her time, of her generation,” says Sarah Phelps, the writer who adapted Margaret’s story for A Very British Scandal, the miniseries coming to the U.S. April 22. “It was like Princess Diana, Kim Kardashian – this globally famous beauty.”

But by the early 1960s, Margaret’s fortunes had reversed on an epic scale. In 1943, she suffered a catastrophic fall that left her with 30 stitches and a broken vertebra, temporarily unable to walk. After ending a first marriage that yielded a son and daughter, she went on a dating streak that ended with a marriage to Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll – securing her family’s formal entry to aristocracy, and access to Inveraray, a proper castle in Scotland.

But Ian Campbell would also be her doom. Margaret would realize her new husband, who was said to be a gambling and alcohol addict, was broke. “He spent the entire war pretty much in a prisoner of war camp, a death camp. He was a bad man before he went in,” says Phelps. “He was a fucking shocker when he came out.”

When A Very British Scandal premieres – with Claire Foy playing the fabulous socialite, and Paul Bettany playing Ian Campbell – it will likely be the first time that modern American audiences learn of the ill-fated socialite. Margaret’s marriage to Ian, and the nasty, heavily publicized breakup that followed – the longest and costliest divorce proceeding in British history at the time—dominate the show’s three episodes. The marriage’s meltdown was such a scorched-earth operation that Phelps says it could have easily carried an entire season of American Crime Story.


Says Phelps, “She’s sort of brilliant and tragic in a way, but also triumphant. Because imagine the guts after that judgment is published in the paper. It goes all around the world. And although the Polaroid photographs by this time have all faded…there’s endless fakes. Everybody knows what the photograph depicts. By the time she’s dead, her sobriquet will still be ‘Blowjob Duchess.’ Can you imagine the guts it takes to get up in the morning, put your poodle on its leash, put on your lipstick, put on your pearls, and take your poodle to the park? Imagine the courage that takes.”

She’s a hot mess. But she’s iconic,” says Phelps, who is thrilled that U.S. viewers will learn of this unconventional woman when A Very British Scandal premieres. “[She was] a passionate woman with her own morality, because anybody that doesn’t give up their friends, that cuts a lot of ice with me.”

In 1990, three years before her death, Margaret reflected on the absurdly high highs and low lows of her life, in an interview quoted by The Telegraph.

“I do not forget. Neither the good years, in which I laughed and danced and lived upon a cloud of happiness; nor the bad years of near despair, when I learned what life and people and friendship really were.”

“What do you make of your life?” an interviewer asked her in 1990.

“Well, some ghastly mistakes,” she laughed. “Like everybody, I’d do anything to have it all over again. And it would be totally different.”

- Remembering Margaret Campbell, the “Hot Mess” Duchess at the Center of ’60s Sex Scandal,, April 6, 2022.

3. Gaza City is not the only place that has been reduced to rubble in the past week. Dan Stillman at WaPo points out that Hurricane Otis hit Acapulco on October 25 with 205 mph winds, “among the strongest ever measured.”

Iván Cabrera at N+ reports that the megastorm destroyed 80% of the city’s infrastructure, leaving the inhabitants without light, electricity, communications or internet. Some 274,000 homes and 600 hotels were affected by the outages in this city of some 800,000 workers in the tourism industry, at an estimated cost of $18 billion. Over 32,000 homes suffered physical damage.

As of midweek this week, only 35% of the city had potable drinking water. Seven soup kitchens set up by the provincial Guerrero government delivered 4,000 servings of food every day. Although 10,200 electricity poles were downed and 38 high tension wires were damaged, some 75% of the city now again has electricity.

The unprecedented destruction came about because humans are burning fossil fuels and heating up the earth and especially the oceans. Otis accelerated as it neared the Pacific coast of Mexico, jumping in only 12 hours from a Category 1 to a Category 5 hurricane just before it slammed into “America’s Paradise.” Ordinarily such storms slow as they approach landfall, and their force is dissipated once they get beyond the warm waters that feed them. It was the first known Category 5 storm to strike the Pacific coast of Mexico. It won’t be the last.

Jeff Masters and Bob Henson at Yale Climate Connections observe, “In what the National Hurricane Center called a ‘nightmare scenario,’ Hurricane Otis made landfall near Acapulco, Mexico, at 1:25 a.m. CDT on Wednesday, October 25, as a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane with 165 mph winds and a central pressure of 923 mb. Otis unexpectedly intensified from a tropical storm with 65 mph winds to a Category 5 storm with 165 mph winds – an astonishing 100 mph increase – in the 24 hours before landfall. Rapid intensification is extremely dangerous because it leaves people little time to prepare for strong storms. The phenomenon is expected to happen more often as the climate warms.”

Let that sink in. “Rapid intensification” of hurricanes and cyclones will become more and more frequent, making any early warning system for evacuations almost impossible.

One reason Otis intensified so rapidly was that it was passing over a sea surface that was 86-88°F (30-31° C.) The Pacific is usually much colder than that, but it is 1.8° F. warmer than the average of the past twenty years. It has been an unusually hot summer, and September had set a record for a spike in temperatures. Both underlying climate change, caused by our burning fossil fuels (the equivalent of setting off 400,000 nuclear bombs the size of the one that was dropped on Hiroshima every single day) , and El Niño contributed to this hot mess off the coast.

- Goodbye Acapulco: 205 mph Winds destroy 80% of Infrastructure, do $18 bn of Damage in Climate Change Warning,, November 2, 2023.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣  编辑:丹妮)