Entries linking to firebug
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]
"insect, beetle," 1620s (earliest reference is to bedbugs), of unknown origin, probably (but not certainly) from or influenced by Middle English bugge "something frightening, scarecrow" (late 14c.), a word or meaning that has become obsolete since the "insect" sense arose, except in bugbear (1570s) and bugaboo (q.v.).
The Middle English word probably is connected with Scottish bogill "goblin, bugbear," or obsolete Welsh bwg "ghost, goblin" (compare Welsh bwgwl "threat," earlier "fear," Middle Irish bocanách "supernatural being"). Some speculate that these words are from a root meaning "goat" (see buck (n.1)) and represent originally a goat-like specter. Compare also bogey (n.1) and Puck. Middle English Compendium compares Low German bögge, böggel-mann "goblin." The sense shift perhaps was by influence of Old English -budda, used in compounds for "beetle" (compare Low German budde "louse, grub," Middle Low German buddech "thick, swollen").
The name of bug is given in a secondary sense to insects considered as an object of disgust and horror, and in modern English is appropriated to the noisome inhabitants of our beds, but in America is used as the general appellation of the beetle tribe .... A similar application of the word signifying an object dread to creeping things is very common. [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859]
The meaning "defect in a machine" (1889) may have been coined c. 1878 by Thomas Edison (perhaps with the notion of an insect getting into the works). In compounds, the meaning "person obsessed by an idea" (as in firebug "arsonist") is from 1841, perhaps from notion of persistence. The colloquial sense of "microbe, germ" is from 1919.
Bugs "crazy" is from c. 1900. Bug juice as a slang name for drink is from 1869, originally "bad whiskey." The 1811 slang dictionary has bug-hunter "an upholsterer." Bug-word "word or words meant to irritate and vex" is from 1560s.
updated on November 13, 2014
Dictionary entries near firebug