Printable Version
Pronunciation: may-lay Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A noisy, riotous disturbance or fight. 2. A confused mess of almost anything, especially a crowd of people.

Notes: This word was reborrowed from French so recently, some people prefer the French spelling: mêlée. It is a lexical orphan without any derivational family.

In Play: The basic sense of today's Good Word refers to a moderate riot: "Following the football game a melee broke out between the fans of the two teams." However, it may be used hyperbolically in a wider sense: "It was not so much a conference as a melee of talks expressing the individual opinions of the attendees."

Word History: This word originates, as usual, in French, particularly with the Middle French mellee, originally meslee with an S that became silent. French inherited the word from Late Latin meslea "fight, brawl". Old French mesler (Modern French mêler) "to mix, mingle, to meddle" is from Vulgar Latin misculare, source of Provenal mesclar, Spanish mezclar, and Italian mescolare and meschiare. Misculare is an extended form of Classical Latin miscere "to mix". The English word was borrowed from French to Middle English as melle, but reborrowed from Modern French mêlée at a later date. This is the same source as Old French medlee, which English borrowed for medley and meddle. (Let's all thank Joakim Larsson of Sweden for today's Good Word, the latest in a medley of excellent ones from him.)

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!