Thursday, May 04, 2006

You're fired

So I was watching The Apprentice the other day, and I started thinking about the word "fired" to mean "removed from employment." How did this meaning of the word come about? It occured to me that "to fire" and "to discharge" are synonomous in the context of firearms. "Discharge" itself used to be a more common word for what we now commonly call being fired. Could the expression "You're fired" be descended from a sort of pun on shooting?

7 comments:

Linus said...

ok - first of all - your problem is watcing The Apprentice, and then secondly whY - and whY then try to make sense out of them.

Pirate Jimmy said...

That is an interesting question indeed. I think I may need to ask Chaka about this one... oh wait... :-D

Chaka said...

I'm watching The Apprentice because my sister-in-law was a production assistant on it.

And because Lee rocks.

Pirate Jimmy said...

According to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), that definition of "fire" may have derived from the use of "fire" as meaning to light a fire, in say a fox hole, to chase out the fox and the such. To drive something out using fire. Though the OED mentions it may have derived from that definition it also states, and I quote, "but this seems unlikely."

Chaka said...

I think my proposal is far more likely than deriving it from "light a fire to drive out." See definition 13 under fire, v. in the OED:

13. a. intr. or absol. To discharge a gun or other fire-arm; to shoot. Const. at, upon, into, etc.

First shows up around 1645. "Discharge," on the other hand, shows up with weapons in 1555.

Meanwhile, "fire" in the sense of "remove from employment" seems not to show up until 1889. And as "U.S. slang" at that. "Discharge" in the sense of "remove from employment," is the earliest meaning we've discussed, 1476.

So under my theory, some American in the late 19th century made a slangy joke that equated being thrown out of a place or office with a bullet shot from a gun. The parallel already existed with "discharge." Maybe he thought that there word was too fancy.

Pirate Jimmy said...

I like that answer.

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