To retaliate with a similar form of attack that has been used against you.
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, simply using water is not always the ideal solution. In fact, there are several approaches for extinguishing a flame! One of the techniques firefighters may use, depending on the circumstances, is literally what this phrase states: they will fight fire by making their own fire!
This technique is called backfiring, and is typically utitlized to help control violent forest fires. The strategy 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 to fuel itself once it reaches that burnt out area, thus crippling the fire from advancing any further.
This idiom is found in plenty of newspapers from the mid to late 19th century. One of them, for example, is The Rock County Recorder from the 1870s, where the expression is written within:
"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."
Reference: Newspaperarchive contained a digital copy of the newspaper that contained the idiom in the quote above.
Interested in sports related phrases? Glance at this sports phrases list then and learn their meanings!
Note: The history, or the origins of common idioms can be difficult to trace down, so finding the precise time a saying came into existance is no walk in the park. What you will usually find on this site are moments in history where an expression started to be used on a widely-known basis. For instance, a lot of popular sayings can be spotted in old newspapers from several decades ago, but think about that for a second. If an idiom is being used in the media, it seems apparent that everybody already knows about it! What does that mean? Well, it means the origins of the phrase are probably much older.
Yes, for the most part, what you'll see on this website are early usages of specific idioms, typically these will come from aged books, plays, poems, or newspapers. It's meant to give you an estimate on how long certain phrases have been used for, but not necessarily where they originated from.
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