To “fight fire with fire” is to retaliate with a similar form of attack that has been used against you.
Example: I was at school and these mean kids were making fun of me. So what did I do? I decided to get back at them by making fun of them too! Then I realized that I was fighting fire with fire and it only made things worse. Remind me not to do that again.
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. As mentioned, one of the techniques that firefighters may decide to use, which again, depends on the circumstances, is literally what this phrase states: they will fight fire by making their own, heat against heat!
But what how it work?
This technique is called backfiring, and it’s typically utilized 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 that burnt out area, thus crippling the primary fire from advancing any further.
Anyways, this idiom goes back to at least the mid to late 19th century, as it’s written in plenty of newspapers from that time. For example, one of earliest I could find the newspaper The Rock County Recorder from the 1870s, where it 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.”
- A random stranger bumped into me and started yelling saying it was my fault, so I chose to fight fire with fire and I yelled back at him! That only escalated the situation, however.
Note: The above is an example of an idiom. If you want to see the meanings for more idioms, then remember we have an alphabetical list of them that’s only a click away. If you are unable to find a particular one that you’re looking for, then consider checking back another time, because more common expressions will be added later. Maybe even drop me an email with the expression you had in mind, if you want to.
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