The term mosh came into use in the early 1980s American hardcore scene in Washington, D.C. Early on, the dance was frequently spelled mash in fanzines and record liner notes, but pronounced mosh, as in the 1982 song "Total Mash" by the D.C.-based hardcore band Scream. H.R. of the band Bad Brains, regarded as a band that "put moshing on the map," used the term mash in lyrics and in concert stage banter to both incite and to describe the aggressive and often violent dancing of the scene. To "mash it up" was to go wild with the frenzy of the music. Due to his Jamaican-accented pronunciation of the word, fans heard this as mosh instead.
By the mid-1980s, the term was appearing in print with its current spelling. By the time thrash metal band Anthrax used the term in their song "Caught in a Mosh", the word was already a mainstay of hardcore and thrash scenes. Scott Ian and Charlie Benante of Anthrax and S.O.D. have both been credited with the term originating from Vinnie Stigma of the New York hardcore band Agnostic Front. Through the mainstream success of bands like Anthrax, Stormtroopers of Death, and multiple thrash metal bands in the late 1980's the term came into the popular vernacular.
The first dance identifiable as moshing may have originated in Orange County, California, during the first wave of American hardcore. Examples of this early moshing can be seen in the documentaries Another State of Mind, Urban Struggle, The Decline of Western Civilization, and American Hardcore, as well as footage from the shows of the era. At the time California hardcore punk bands such as the Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Fear and Dead Kennedys were popular in Orange County.
Crossover into mainstream genres
By the end of the 1980s, the initial wave of American hardcore punk had waned and split into other subgenres. The Seattle-based grunge movement was among the many styles of music that directly evolved from hardcore. Through the mainstream success of several grunge bands, the word mosh entered the popular North American vocabulary and the dance spread to many other music genres. According to John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, "it didn’t matter what kind of music you were playing or what kind of band you were; everybody moshed to everything. It was just kind of the enforced rule of going to concerts."
Variations of moshing exist, and can be done alone as well as in groups. Variations on the traditional mosh include "pogoing", "circle pits" (where the participants bump and jostle each other as they run along the circular perimeter of the pit) and the more extreme "wall of death" (where the crowd splits into two groups that run at each other). Some moshers swing their arms back and forth and move their legs in a rhythmic fashion.