OK - confession

Posted by Lewis on May 13, 2005

In Reply to: Fire in the hole posted by ESC on May 08, 2005

: : : : : : : What does it mean when someone said "fire in the hole"?

: : : : : : It is a term used by naval gunners - the old cannons on warships were fired by igniting the powder through a hole on the top of the rear of the barrel which had been muzzle-loaded with powder, shot (either ball or other) and wadding.

: : : : : : the term continued to be used even after breach-loading guns replaced cannon. (breach loaders load from the back and have shells rather than balls - they are not fired by igniting a fire-hole).

: : : : : : It is used to warn other crew that that a naval gun is going to fire, which in a confined space is more dangerous than a normal artillery piece in the open.

: : : : : I believe this warning is also used in mining, construction, demolition, and other persuits that require controlled blasting.

: : : : >>"..I believe this warning is also used in mining, construction, demolition, and other persuits that require controlled blasting. .." and is heard on late nite TV crime dramas.

: : : :I don't believe that this phrase was ever used, or could ever have been used, in naval gunnery. In naval gun-drill as in military, the command to fire given by the gun-captain was simply "Fire!". Not only was there no need for any other warning, there wouldn't have been time for one. The piece was fired either by touching the linstock to the priming powder or fuse or (after about 1800) pulling the lanyard of a flintlock mechanism; either way the gun would go off within a second or so. Yelling "Fire in the hole" only makes sense in the context of blasting, when you have set off an explosion using a fuse, a timer or some other delaying device, and you need to warn everybody in the vicinity to get clear before it goes off.

: : : - in fact this is a parallel piece of disinformation to the assertion that crops up all over the web these days, that "pull your finger out" derives from black-powder gunners sticking their fingers down the touch-hole. No gunner ever did that, either!

: Fire in the hole -- It's used in the United States in mining. (See the first scene in the movie "Coal Miner's Daughter.") Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources online: PART 225 - USE OF PERMISSIBLE EXPLOSIVES IN UNDERGROUND COAL MINES. The shot firer must give a loud, verbal warning such as "fire in the hole" at least three times before blasting.

I was winging it a bit ! I came across the expression in the Steven Seagal film "Under Seige" when they are firing a WWII gun on a battleship and having heard it before in a naval context, interpolated back to probable original use - 'hole' and 'hold' being phonetically similar. I entirely agree that British gunners called "Fire!" - although I do think that British gunners did also call "Clear!" to confirm that the crew were out of the way of the recoil, so it could be fired.
I reckoned that American gunners used the longer "fire in the hole/hold" - perhaps they didn't.