To ‘fight fire with fire’ is to retaliate with a similar form of attack that has been used against you.
Example: While I was at school, these mean kids made fun of me. It made me angry, so I got back at them by making fun of them too! However, I then realized that I was fighting fire with fire and that it only made things worse.
Synonyms/Related: a taste of one’s own medicine
The Origin Of ‘Fight Fire With Fire’
This phrase is believed to have originated with firefighters, who will literally fight fire with fire depending on what method the situation calls for.
That’s right, using water is not always the best way to combat a raging inferno, sometimes other techniques are needed for success. One of these techniques that firefighters use, as mentioned above, is literally what the phrase states: they will fight fire by making their own. Yes, heat against heat!
But how does it work?
This technique is called backfiring and firemen typically use it to help control violent forest fires. The strategy, from what I understand, is to intentionally set a fire in front of the oncoming primary fire in order to create a “roadblock” of sorts. By burning away the nearby timber, the primary fire will have nothing left to fuel itself once it reaches the burnt out area. Thus, the primary fire becomes crippled and is prevented from advancing any further.
Anyways, let’s talk about this saying’s age. This phrase makes an appearance in several newspapers from the mid 19th century, so we know it is at least that old. For example, in the newspaper The Rock County Recorder from the 1870s, there’s a part that reads:
“Some one has suggested that it might be proper to fight fire with fire on the prairies, but it would hardly answer to attempt this in an oil refinery.”
- Some random stranger bumped into me and started yelling at me saying it was my fault. I chose to fight fire with fire by yelling back.
- Catherine likes playing practical jokes on people, so I thought I’d give her a taste of her own medicine today by playing one on her.
Note: You just read about a common phrase. If you liked learning about it, we have other sayings that start with “F” that you can check out. In fact, we have a list containing hundreds of expressions, from A to Z. You can learn their meaning, origin, and more! To find them, use the menu at the top.
Anyways, thanks for dropping by!