Fire. This one ranks as a word used often and well known. So why, you wonder, would I look into the etymology and history? Largely because there are so many interesting ways to use it, both as a noun, and a verb, that have cropped up over the years! I thought today we’d just take a look at a list of some common ways to use it and when it developed.

The main noun dates all the way back to Old English and has Germanic roots. The current spelling is from the 1200s, but the Middle English spelling of fier didn’t completely vanish until the 1600s, and we can still see it today in words like fiery.

It’s been used metaphorically for feelings of passion since the 1300s.

The phrase “on fire” is from the 1500s, which I find surprising! Before that, it was in fire. Who knew?!

Discharging a weapon is from the 1580s (hello, gunpowder!).

People have been using the metaphorical “playing with fire” to mean “risking danger” since 1861, and asking “Where’s the fire?” when people are in a hurry since 1917.

Switching to the verb uses, the base “set fire to” goes back to the late 1300s…but interestingly, the metaphorical sense of “inflame or excite” is from the 1200s!

The sense of firing pottery in a kiln is from the 1660s, which is later than I would have thought.

The phrase “fire away” as in “go ahead” is from 1775.

This one has caught me up before–fire meaning “to dismiss someone from their job or position” was first fire out in 1877 and then just fire in 1879, but is unique to American English. (British English has used sacked for that.)

And finally, fire up as a verb meaning “to make angry” is from 1798, and fired up as an adjective followed in 1824.

See? All sorts of fun etymology of the different ways fire has been used throughout the centuries!




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