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The context comes from the movie "Killer's Kiss" by Stanley Kubrick

"Who are those people in that picture over there? And how'd you ever get messed up with that dance hall guy?"

The character speaking refers to a situation that happened before. He saw the woman he's talking to with a guy from a dance hall who was accosting her and even trying to physically harm her.

I provided research in the bottom but I doubt it will be the correct definition for this:

mess up

  1. To damage or harm someone or something. In this usage, a noun or pronoun can be used between "mess" and "up." If you don't regularly get your oil changed, you could really mess up your engine.(source: McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs)
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    I think it's probably a transcription error. Infinitely more likely: How'd you ever get mixed up with him? (several pages of results from Googe Books). There's not a single written instance of you ever get messed up with him Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 15:04
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    ...or feasibly the actor / scriptwriter is (accidentally, not as deliberate "wordplay") conflating get messed up by him (implying he knocks her about) and get mixed up with him (implying she should be more careful in her choice of friends; he's known to be "a bad lot"). Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 15:19
  • Where did you consult the actual script?
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 16:20
  • I just looked at the first subtitle file I found (which does have messed up), then I listened to that part of the movie (it's inconclusive to me which word he's saying). Here's a relevant usage chart, though. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 16:56

1 Answer 1

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Here, to be "messed up with" something or somebody means to be involved with it/them, and it's a bad thing/person to be involved with. It's almost always used in questions like this, which show surprise that someone could get involved in something that doesn't fit their character.

In this context, the guy can't understand why this woman would have anything to do with a man who would treat her so badly.

The expression can also apply to a situation, rather than a person:

How did a good kid like you get messed up with a bank robbery?

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  • I've never encountered this usage before. And per my comment under the OP, it looks like none of the writers indexed by Google Books have, either. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 15:22
  • @FumbleFingers Ngrams turned up lots of hits with this function: google.com/…
    – gotube
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 15:27
  • NGrams isn't currently working properly for me. But I consider the two Google Books links in my comment above to be pretty convincing support for my "typo / misspeaking / transcription error" theory. Also I just dug out the movie itself, but I can't swear to what the guy is saying - it could be either mixed up OR messed up. That's a minor detail though - it's hardly a usage that non-native speakers need to know. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 15:33
  • @FumbleFingers Here in Canada, it's common enough and I understood it instantly. I have a hunch it comes from AAEV, which would explain why it's less common in the UK. My search was just for "get messed up with", rather than the longer version you searched.
    – gotube
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 15:37
  • The movie is not about Black English speakers. They are all white...
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 16:22

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