phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Fired - a very old origin

Posted by James Briggs on June 02, 2000

In Reply to: Re: Fired posted by ESC on June 02, 2000

: : I don't think the term has anything to do with a glove.
: : The word "mitten" would be derived from the latin "mitto" which is conjugated thusly: mitto mittere misi missum.
: : Mitto means to send, dispatch; to send as a gift; to fling; to shed; to utter; to let go, release, give up; to dismiss, discharge; to pass over.
: : We have tons of words from mitto:
: : transmit, emit, permit etc.

: : Fired:
: : Just my thought: As a projectile is "fired" or discharged from a gun so is a person who has been let go or discharged from his job.
: : Just my unbackupable ( unbackupable?? ) theory!!

: Fired -- Two sources say the original phrase was "fired out." Maybe that's some sort of clue.

: Stuart Berg Flexner, in "Listening to America," (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982) has a chapter on "Unions, Factories, and Strikes." He says:

: "fire. The easiest way to get rid of a union member was to fire that person. 'Fire' has meant to dismiss from employment since 1885, with to 'fire (out)' having meant to eject or throw a person out since 1871. Although 'fire' has become the most common word, a boss could also 'give (one) one's walking papers,' 1825, or 'walking ticket,' 1835; 'sack' someone, 1840, who is then said 'to get the sack,'...'get the bounce,' 1879; 'get the boot,' 1888; experience a 'lay off,' 1889; be 'shopped,' 1915, figuratively be thrown out of the shop; 'get the blue envelope,' 1927; 'get the pink slip,' 1930s; 'get the skids,' 1936; or, in the case of an executive, 'get the kiss off, 1950s. The workers then, of course, have to 'hit the asphalt,' 1909, or 'pound the pavement,' 1923, to look for another job."

: Mr. Flexner added some more modern terms in "Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English from Plymouth Rock to Silicon Valley," (Oxford University Press, New York, 1997) written with Anne H. Soukhanov. "Corporate downsizing," 1975, with downsizing taken from the auto industry's production of compact cars; "downshifting," being forced to take a less well-paying job; "outsourcing," farming out jobs to providers outside the company; and "golden parachutes," 1981, financial protection for executives.

The words "you're fired" are often used to tell someone that they've lost their job; have been discharged. The similarity between "fired" and "discharged" may suggest a connection with firearms. I could find no real origin in any of my reference books, other than suggesting the analogy with firing a gun. However, one day, I was sent the following which appeared in the Clevedon, Somerset, Civic Society Newsletter for Summer 1996:

"We discovered recently that the word 'fired', meaning discharged from a job originated on Mendip. It comes from Item 6 of the Laws of Mendip Miners".

(Incidentally, The Mendip Hills are about 50km south of Bristol, England. They are beautiful in summer, but can be a bit bleak in winter. In the past various types of mining took place there and the Law below, as judged by the language used, is several 100 years old. Apologies to the non native English speakers, but that's the way it's written).

"If any man... do pick or steale any lead or ore to the value of xiiid, the Lord or his Officer may arrest all his lead and Oare House or hearthes with his Grooves and Workes and keep them in forfeit... and shall take the person that hath soe affeended and bring him where his house or worke and all his tooles and instruments are... and put him into his house or worke and set fire in all together about him and banish him..."

Fired indeed!