Fire in the belly

Posted by ESC on March 14, 2003

In Reply to: Fire in the belly posted by R. Berg on March 14, 2003

: : Working on a lyrical annotation project and this phrase comes up... I'm guessing it stems either from the days of coal-driven boats/locomotives, or from a firewater/alcohol reference, but I haven't found any substantiation either way. Any help?

: : --Dave

: It was the title of a book on men by Sam Keen; it referred, I think, to driving passions, "gut feelings." The link below goes to more info (

FIRE IN THE BELLY - "an unquenchable thirst for power or glory; the burning drive to win a race or achieve a goal. As a political phrase, the expression is usually used to indicate a Presidential candidates' desire to win, particularly the willingness to endure the long contest. It first appeared in print in 1882, in an essay by Robert Louis Stevenson, in which he compared historians Thomas Carlyle and Thomas Babington Macaulay.The source of the expression is not known. Perhaps this metaphor for ambition comes from stoking a potbellied stove or from the fiery sensation of heartfelt heartburn." From Safire's New Political Dictionary by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993). Pages 249-250.