Mare's Nest – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Have you seen the phrase 'mare's nest' somewhere on the internet or in a text, and would like to know more about the context and meaning of the saying? The phrase is a somewhat rare saying in the English language, that can be used to refer to anything that is entangled or messy. This post unpacks the origin and correct use of the phrase.


'Mare's nest' is a common type of figurative phrase in the English language, though it has declined in popularity in recent years.

When something is described as 'a mare's nest' then the saying is used to imply that something is tangled, or that it is a mess or disaster.

A 'mare's nest' refers to the idea that a mare would create a disastrous mess around themselves, and the expression stuck with the language.

The phrase 'mare's nest' is almost never used in the literal sense, but most of the modern uses of the phrase has it as a figurative saying instead.

Someone can also use the phrase in the denial form to say that something 'is not a mare's nest' or to say that it is not a mess (as someone else in the conversation might have implied).

The phrase 'mare's nest' can be used to refer to things, and isn't commonly used to refer to people.

Example Usage

“I can't believe the look of the place when we walked in. It was a real mare's nest from top to bottom, I don't know how he even found his pants in that place.”

“If you want to see a real mare's nest, just stop by the motel right off the interstate. The place looks so bad, they should be paying you to avoid it.”

“His hair looked like a real mare's nest, he hadn't brushed it in a good week since we last saw him. That's not a great image for the company CEO, now is it?”

“It took us about four hours to fix the mare's nest she left behind when she died. I mean, it would have helped if we didn't have to lift our dead grandma off the chair before we could clean it.”


According to online language resources like, the saying 'mare's nest' is likely to have come into being between the 1800s to 1900s, as the earliest documented use of the phrase occurs close to the 1800s – though might have been used earlier.

The saying became more popular with speakers and readers after its use by author Agatha Christie, who first used the phrase in The Mysterious Affair At Styles.

After the 1900s, the phrase would make its way into English dictionaries and phrasebooks where it would continue well into modern use.

Meaning has changed little since the original figurative use of the phrase, and it still used in more or less the same way as Agatha Christie did during the 1900s.

Urban Dictionary lists the word 'mare' in 2003, as a similar term to 'cougar' although this does not give any relation between the two phrases.

Phrases Similar to Mare's Nest

  • Mess

Phrases Opposite to Mare's Nest

  • Spic and span

What is the Correct Saying?

  • A mare's nest

Ways People May Say Mare's Nest Incorrectly

There are several ways in which someone can use the phrase 'mare's nest' in the wrong way, or misunderstand the meaning of the phrase when it gets used.

If the phrase is unfamiliar to the audience, then it can be misunderstood. The phrase can also be misunderstood if it is translated into a language that has no context for the saying.

Someone can misspell the phrase as 'mares nest' and forget the apostrophe, which renders an incorrect phrase.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Mare's Nest

There are several correct ways in which someone can use the phrase 'mare's nest' to refer to something that is a mess or messy.

The phrase 'mare's nest' is most commonly used to refer to things and not people, though might be used as a direct reference (or a reference about something in conversation with a third party).

Someone can also use the negative 'not a mare's nest' to deny that something is a mess, like the rest of the conversation might have implied.

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