Red – On Language – With Apologies to William Safire

Turning the corner at the local grocery store on Saturday night, Red passed a woman who was the mother of one of Lil’ Red’s former classmates.  The youngsters had several play dates together.  Invariably no matter what the plan, this other mother was either late, forgot or was unable to chaperone even though previously arranged.

She did not recognize Red – an unfortunately common occurrence that is sometimes not without its benefits.  Back home Red mentioned the chance encounter to Mrs. Red referring to the woman as a “hot mess.”  Mrs. R. disagreed claiming that she was actually a “train wreck” – which got Red to wondering at the exact difference and whether any other similar terms should be analyzed.

The general consensus is that a “hot mess” refers to person or thing that is spectacularly unsuccessful or disordered, especially one that is a source of peculiar fascination.  Most current “dictionaries” include a indication of the person otherwise remaining attractive or alluring despite outward appearances to the contrary.  There is also likely an implied element of self-destructive behavior contributing to the warmth of the messiness.  A subsidiary meaning concerns a situation or incident that is extraordinarily bad.  These definitions may or may not be far afield from the original meaning of a hot meal shared by a group of soldiers depending on what was being served and under what conditions.

All of this seemed to apply well to the woman in question who was undeniably attractive but to all appearances led a disorganized and chaotic life.

“Train wreck” refers to  a person who has experienced a personal failure or disaster, or a  disastrous situation, occurrence, or process.  One source defines it as “a total fucking disaster.” Another goes with “total failure.” The derivation is obvious as is the transference of the term to modern slang usage. 

Score one for Red here as there were no obvious indications that the “hot mess” woman had experienced a train wreck.


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