The phrase fight fire with fire means to retaliate with a similar form of attack that was used against you.
Example: When I used to go to school, I remember being teased and made fun of by a group of mean kids. They made me so upset that I decided to fight fire with fire by teasing them back; however, that only seemed to make things worse.
The Origin Of ‘Fight Fire With Fire’
The origin of this phrase is believed to come from firefighters, who will literally fight fire with fire depending on what method the situation calls for. That’s right, water is not always the best solution for combating a raging inferno, sometimes other techniques are needed for success. One of the techniques firefighters use is exactly what the phrase says—they fight against a fire by making their own; heat against heat!
How does it work? The name of this technique is called backfiring and firemen typically use it to help control violent forest fires. From what I understand, the strategy involves intentionally setting a fire in front of the oncoming primary fire in order to burn away any nearby timber and other flammable material in the area. That way, once the primary fire reaches that area, it will have nothing left to fuel itself. This prevents the primary fire from advancing any further and eventually it goes out.
Now let’s talk about how old this saying is. The phrase makes an appearance in print as early as 1826, in the Richmond Enquirer newspaper:
“The canal owners must fight fire with fire, by introducing the use of steam boats on their canals;—or rail-roads will supersede in a considerable degree the use of water-carriage.”
- I was grabbing some of my favorite cereal from the store shelf when someone bumped me into. Instead of apologizing, they blamed me and starting shouting. I yelled back, fighting fire with fire, but later I regretted it.
- Since Catherine likes playing pranks on people, I thought I would give her a taste of her own medicine by playing one on her.
Tip: Did you like reading about this common phrase? For more of them, check out this list of sayings that start with “F”, or for our full list of expressions, use the menu at the top. You can learn about their meaning, origin, and more!