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.