Friday, 21 November 2008

To Fight Fire With Fire : Origin and Meaning


I spent some time looking up the possible origin of this saying, and could not find a source that that made any sense. On the point of deleting my efforts as a job not well done I decided to post what was available.

Fight and fire do not need any further definition in this context.
When one fights fire with fire, the meaning is that you retaliate to a threat or danger by employing the same means as those used against you.

The classic example is that of fighting a physical fire with fire. Here I am on comfortable ground as I was a forester for a number of years. Not all fires can be fought with conventional equipment or preparations. Fire-belts, tankers and manpower are oftentimes just not sufficient to bring a fire under control. That is when one can do back-burning. You create another fire and use the wind and topography to ensure that the two fires meet, and once this has happened there will be no more fuel to burn and you have the situation under control. A decision to back-burn is not an easy decision.
So you are fighting fire with fire. It is debatable whether this is the origin of the saying and who and when this was term first used I could not find.
This term can be used in other contexts, where you retaliate to a threat using the same “instrument” used against you. An example often used is when you are losing business due to a very successful advertising campaign by your competition. By stepping up your sales by increasing your advertising efforts would be fighting fire with fire.
Having said that, if someone pours sand into your fuel tank, and you retaliate by doing the same to him, you are not fighting fire with fire. This is more of an “eye for an eye” situation.
Will keep on looking around to try and improve this post.
Image from Wikipedia

1 comment:

Melinda said...

I think this is an expression which means if someone made us something bad we should do the same, I'd take my generic viagra and I'd face whatever person who want to hurt me.