mess o' mystery

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Senior Member
Tonight they’ll have a catered meal, but the food will be a lukewarm, sauce-covered mess o’ mystery supplied by the cafeteria in one of the college commons. Possibly chicken, possibly fish, it’s always hard to tell. Beige food is what Pauline calls it. Visiting poet-food is always beige, and in any case it won’t be served until eight o’clock.
Source: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

What is your interpretation of mess o' mystery ? Is this a poetic lexicon to say that the sauce will either be messy (sauces are apt to be messy when eating) or mysterious ( not knowing what to expect the flavour to be ) ?

Thank you
  • Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Have you looked at "mess" in the dictionary? The food is a mess before the sauce is put on it. (It's not poetic license. A lexicon is a dictionary.)
    From the American English dictionary in the Word Reference dictionary:
    10. a quantity of food sufficient for a dish or a single occasion: to pick a mess of sweet corn for dinner
    11. a sloppy or unappetizing preparation of food.

    "of mystery" We don't even know what it is. Is it fish? chicken? pork? tofu?


    Senior Member
    English - England
    A 'mess' is an old-fashioned word that means "a portion of food" -> it is used today mainly as slang/informally to humorously indicate food (usually cooked) that does not look too appetising.

    "o' mystery" = of mystery = mysterious
    mess o’ mystery = a portion of food whose contents are unknown. (Humorous and slightly disparaging)
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