1752, of a gun, "to fail in firing;" by 1893 of an internal combustion engine; see mis- (1) "badly, wrongly" + fire (v.). Perhaps the first element is miss (v.); to miss fire, of a gun, is attested by 1727. Related: Misfired; misfiring. Figurative use by 1942. The noun is attested from 1839 in reference to a gun or cannon.
Entries linking to misfire
prefix of Germanic origin affixed to nouns and verbs and meaning "bad, wrong," from Old English mis-, from Proto-Germanic *missa- "divergent, astray" (source also of Old Frisian and Old Saxon mis-, Middle Dutch misse-, Old High German missa-, German miß-, Old Norse mis-, Gothic missa-), perhaps literally "in a changed manner," and with a root sense of "difference, change" (compare Gothic misso "mutually"), and thus possibly from PIE *mit-to-, from root *mei- (1) "to change."
Productive as word-forming element in Old English (as in mislæran "to give bad advice, teach amiss"). In 14c.-16c. in a few verbs its sense began to be felt as "unfavorably," and it came to be used as an intensive prefix with words already expressing negative feeling (as in misdoubt). Practically a separate word in Old and early Middle English (and often written as such). Old English also had an adjective (mislic "diverse, unlike, various") and an adverb (mislice "in various directions, wrongly, astray") derived from it, corresponding to German misslich (adj.). It has become confused with mis- (2).
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).
Old English missan "fail to hit, miss (a mark); fail in what was aimed at; escape (someone's notice)," from Proto-Germanic *missjan "to go wrong" (source also of Old Frisian missa, Middle Dutch, Dutch missen, German missen "to miss, fail"), from *missa- "in a changed manner," hence "abnormally, wrongly," from PIE root *mei- (1) "to change, go, move." Reinforced or influenced by cognate Old Norse missa "to miss, to lack." Related: Missed; missing.
Sense of "fail to find" (someone or something) is by late 12c. Meaning "fail to note, perceive, or observe" is from early 13c. Meaning "fail to reach or attain what one wants" is from mid-13c. Sense of "perceive with regret the absence or loss of (something or someone)" is from c. 1300. Meaning "omit, leave out, skip" is by mid-14c. Sense of "to escape, avoid" is from 1520s.
Sense of "to not be on time for" is from 1823; to miss the boat in the figurative sense of "be too late for" is from 1929, originally nautical slang. To miss out (on) "fail to get" is by 1929.
updated on March 11, 2019