Fight Fire With Fire – Origin and Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

If I’ve ever seen a clear idiom, it’s “fight fire with fire.” But what does the phrase really mean, and are we using it correctly? I’ll explain all the details behind this expression and show you a few sentences explaining how to utilize it properly.

Meaning of Fighting Fire with Fire

Fight Fire With Fire Origin Meaning 3

When we say the phrase “fight fire with fire,” we mean to counter or confront a big problem using similar methods or tactics as the opponent did. It’s usually in response to what someone else has done toward you.

Growing up, I was bullied quite a bit for being quiet and nerdy. Whenever I told my dad about it, he’d say, “Fight fire with fire, honey,” and encourage me to speak up and fight back with my words.

You often see the tactic used in the world of politics when one opponent launches a smear campaign on the other. Then they reciprocate, launching an equally scathing campaign on the first opponent. That’s fighting fire with fire. It’s not always a good thing, nor is it mature.

Fight Fire with Fire Origin

Let’s go back to the year 1595 when Shakespeare wrote King John. There was an excerpt that read:

Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire;

Threaten the threatener and outface the brow

Of bragging horror.

The concept also has a literal root in the world of firefighting. It’s an actual method of fire control that firefighters use to combat massive burns like forest fires. They’d set smaller, controlled burns to get rid of vegetation and brush that the main fire would use as fuel. This is called a firebreak.

Fight Fire with Fire Synonyms

  • Counterattack
  • Give someone a taste of their own medicine
  • Retaliate
  • Tit for tat
  • Respond in kind
  • Meet force with force
  • Turn the tables
  • Fists to fists

Fight Fire with Fire Examples in a Sentence

Fight Fire With Fire Origin Meaning 1

I told you I had some good sentences showing how to use the phrase in a full context!

  • When the opposing soccer team started playing aggressively, our coach told us to fight fire with fire and not back down until we won.
  • Our company CEO decided to fight fire with fire, launching a marketing campaign that targeted our competitor’s weaknesses, their ego.
  • If someone is spreading rumors about you, don’t fight fire with fire by doing the same; take the high road and talk it out with the person.
  • Karen was determined to fight fire with fire and confronted her co-worker about their constant passive-aggressive behavior toward her.
  • Sometimes you just need to fight fire with fire and put up an even bigger fence than your annoying neighbor.

Don’t Get Burned

Fighting fire with fire might be an idiom, but you can still get burned. Be careful when using the method to retaliate or overcome something. In regard to using it in conversation and writing, have fun and see how it can make your vocabulary blossom!