AskDefine | Define melee

Dictionary Definition

melee n : a noisy riotous fight [syn: scrimmage, battle royal]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


Borrowed from mêlée, from meslee, feminine past participle of mesler, derived from miscere.


  • /mɛˈleɪ/


  1. Hand-to-hand combat; mano-à-mano.
  2. A naval or armor battle at an abnormally close range, extending even to disorganized crowds of people or traffic jams, using no ammunition.


Hand-to-hand combat. Mano-à-mano
A naval or armor battle at an abnormally close range

Extensive Definition

Melee (from the French mêlée ) generally refers to disorganized close combat involving a group of fighters. A melee ensues when groups become locked together in combat with no regard to group tactics or fighting as an organized unit; each participant fights as an individual.

Origin of the term

The French term is the feminine past participle of the verb "to mix". Nominalized, it refers to any confused tangle or agitated scramble, in particular unordered combat. The term descends from Old French meslede, from Vulgar Latin misculāta "mixed", from Latin miscēre "to mix"; compare mélange, milieu.
Like many other foreign-derived terms used in common English, the word is typically written in American English with the accents omitted, appearing as just "melee" and pronounced (.

Historical use

During the Middle Ages, tournaments often contained a mêlée consisting of knights fighting one another on foot or while mounted, either divided into two sides or fighting as a free-for-all. The object was to capture opposing knights so that they could be ransomed, and this could be a very profitable business for such skilled knights as William Marshal. There was a tournament ground covering several square miles in northern France to which knights came from all over Europe to prove themselves in quite real combat. This was, in fact, the original form of tournaments and the most popular between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—jousting being a later development, and one that did not completely displace the mêlée until many more centuries had passed. The original melee was engaged with normal weapons and fraught with as much danger as a normal battle. Rules slowly tempered the danger, but at all times the melee was more dangerous than the joust.

Modern use

The term melee has been extended to refer to other forms of combat such as a naval or armor battle that is fought at abnormally close range with little central control once it starts. The Battle of Trafalgar became a mêlée when the British ships broke the French and Spanish line, precipitating a ship-to-ship battle. In this instance, the mêlée was planned; Admiral Nelson used the superior fighting qualities of his crews to offset the greater French and Spanish numbers.
Melee is occasionally used to describe disorganized groups of people and vehicles, such as mobs, mosh pits, and traffic jams.
It is also used in sport. For example, the Australian Football League has an official (and somewhat controversial) melee rule which is used to fine players involved in on-field brawls, regardless of whether they throw punches or are simply pulling their teammates away from the fight.

Use in gameplay

"Melee" () has been adopted and popularized as a gaming term to encompass all close-quarter fighting. For instance, gamers will refer to "melee attacks" as opposed to "ranged attacks" in the context of first person shooter, real-time tactics, computer role-playing games, and paper RPGs. Basically the term is used to describe directly striking an opponent at ranges generally less than a few feet with fists, feet, knives, swords, hammers, maces, the butt of a rifle or any other sharp or blunt instrument with the intention of causing harm.
There is a term deathmatch that, in computer gaming, means (basically) the same as melee meant in historical era - a FFA fight against all other participants.
melee in German: Mêlée (Kriegführung)
melee in Luxembourgish: Mêlée

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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