fire (n.)

Old English fyr "fire, a fire," from Proto-Germanic *fūr- (source also of Old Saxon fiur, Old Frisian fiur, Old Norse fürr, Middle Dutch and Dutch vuur, Old High German fiur, German Feuer "fire"), from PIE *perjos, from root *paewr- "fire." Current spelling is attested as early as 1200, but did not fully displace Middle English fier (preserved in fiery) until c. 1600.

PIE apparently had two roots for fire: *paewr- and *egni- (source of Latin ignis). The former was "inanimate," referring to fire as a substance, and the latter was "animate," referring to it as a living force (compare water (n.1)).

Brend child fuir fordredeþ ["The Proverbs of Hendyng," c. 1250]

English fire was applied to "ardent, burning" passions or feelings from mid-14c. Meaning "discharge of firearms, action of guns, etc." is from 1580s. To be on fire is from c. 1500 (in fire attested from c. 1400, as is on a flame "on fire"). To play with fire in the figurative sense "risk disaster, meddle carelessly or ignorantly with a dangerous matter" is by 1861, from the common warning to children. Phrase where's the fire?, said to one in an obvious hurry, is by 1917, American English.

Fire-bell is from 1620s; fire-alarm as a self-acting, mechanical device is from 1808 as a theoretical creation; practical versions began to appear in the early 1830s. Fire-escape (n.) is from 1788 (the original so-called was a sort of rope-ladder disguised as a small settee); fire-extinguisher is from 1826. A fire-bucket (1580s) carries water to a fire. Fire-house is from 1899; fire-hall from 1867, fire-station from 1828. Fire company "men for managing a fire-engine" is from 1744, American English. Fire brigade "firefighters organized in a body in a particular place" is from 1838. Fire department, usually a branch of local government, is from 1805. Fire-chief is from 1877; fire-ranger from 1887.

Symbolic fire and the sword is by c. 1600 (translating Latin flamma ferroque absumi); earlier yron and fyre (1560s), with suerd & flawme (mid-15c.), mid fure & mid here ("with fire and armed force"), c. 1200. Fire-breathing is from 1590s. To set the river on fire, "accomplish something surprising or remarkable" (usually with a negative and said of one considered foolish or incompetent) is by 1830, often with the name of a river, varying according to locality, but the original is set the Thames on fire (1796). The hypothetical feat was mentioned as the type of something impossibly difficult by 1720; it circulated as a theoretical possibility under some current models of chemistry c. 1792-95, which may have contributed to the rise of the expression.

[A]mong other fanciful modes of demonstrating the practicability of conducting the gas wherever it might be required, he anchored a small boat in the stream about 50 yards from the shore, to which he conveyed a pipe, having the end turned up so as to rise above the water, and forcing the gas through the pipe, lighted it just above the surface, observing to his friends "that he had now set the river on fire." ["On the Origins and Progress of Gas-lighting," in "Repertory of Patent Inventions," vol. III, London, 1827]

fire (v.)

c. 1200, furen, "arouse, inflame, excite" (a figurative use); literal sense of "set fire to" is attested from late 14c., from fire (n.). The Old English verb fyrian "to supply with fire" apparently did not survive into Middle English. Related: Fired; firing.

Meaning "expose to the effects of heat or fire" (of bricks, pottery, etc.) is from 1660s. Meaning "to discharge artillery or a firearm" (originally by application of fire) is from 1520s; extended sense of "to throw (as a missile)" is from 1580s. Fire away in the figurative sense of "go ahead" is from 1775.

The sense of "sack, dismiss from employment" is recorded by 1877 (with out; 1879 alone) in American English. This probably is a play on the two meanings of discharge (v.): "to dismiss from a position," and "to fire a gun," influenced by the earlier general sense "throw (someone) out" of some place (1871). To fire out "drive out by or as if by fire" (1520s) is in Shakespeare and Chapman. Fired up "angry" is from 1824 (to fire up "become angry" is from 1798).

updated on August 26, 2022

Definitions of fire from WordNet
fire (v.)
start firing a weapon;
Synonyms: open fire
fire (v.)
cause to go off;
fire a bullet
fire a gun
Synonyms: discharge
fire (v.)
bake in a kiln so as to harden;
fire pottery
fire (v.)
terminate the employment of; discharge from an office or position;
The boss fired his secretary today
Synonyms: displace / give notice / can / dismiss / give the axe / send away / sack / force out / give the sack / terminate
fire (v.)
go off or discharge;
The gun fired
Synonyms: discharge / go off
fire (v.)
drive out or away by or as if by fire;
The soldiers were fired
Surrender fires the cold skepticism
fire (v.)
call forth (emotions, feelings, and responses);
Synonyms: arouse / elicit / enkindle / kindle / evoke / raise / provoke
fire (v.)
destroy by fire;
Synonyms: burn / burn down
fire (v.)
provide with fuel;
Oil fires the furnace
Synonyms: fuel
fire (v.)
generate an electrical impulse;
the neurons fired fast
fire (v.)
become ignited;
The furnace wouldn't fire
Synonyms: flame up
fire (v.)
start or maintain a fire in;
fire the furnace
Synonyms: light / ignite
fire (n.)
the event of something burning (often destructive);
they lost everything in the fire
fire (n.)
the act of firing weapons or artillery at an enemy;
hold your fire until you can see the whites of their eyes
they retreated in the face of withering enemy fire
Synonyms: firing
fire (n.)
the process of combustion of inflammable materials producing heat and light and (often) smoke;
fire was one of our ancestors' first discoveries
Synonyms: flame / flaming
fire (n.)
a fireplace in which a relatively small fire is burning;
they sat by the fire and talked
fire (n.)
once thought to be one of four elements composing the universe (Empedocles);
fire (n.)
feelings of great warmth and intensity;
Synonyms: ardor / ardour / fervor / fervour / fervency / fervidness
fire (n.)
fuel that is burning and is used as a means for cooking;
barbecue over an open fire
put the kettle on the fire
fire (n.)
a severe trial;
he went through fire and damnation
fire (n.)
intense adverse criticism;
Clinton directed his fire at the Republican Party
Synonyms: attack / flak / flack / blast
Etymologies are not definitions. From, not affiliated with etymonline.