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Fire in the hole

Posted by ESC on April 14, 2001

In Reply to: Fire in the hole posted by joel on April 14, 2001

: : : I've heard this phrase in many action movies, usually screamed as a warning that an explosive device was just thrown into an enclosed area. I wonder about the origin of this phrase, if it wasn't originally used as an alarm in response to the extremely dangerous situation of having an uncontrolled fire in a wooden ship's *hold*. Another theory is as an alarm to other soldiers that gunfire has erupted in a soldier's dugout (hole). Anyone know for certain?

: : Nope, I don't know the origin for sure. The phrase was used in "Coal Miner's Daughter," a bio of singer Loretta Lynn, when a miner was using dynamite to blast loose coal.

: It is a phrase that was used at least back into the first half of the century in the Pacific Northwest US, to announce that dynamite would very soon be set off. Usually in mining or forestry (stump-blasting) situations.

I believe it was first used in mining, although I don't have proof. Just a feeling. Here's what I found in a reference:
FIRE IN THE HOLE - "Explosives about to be detonated deliberately, such as a satchel charge being dropped into a suspected enemy HIDEY-HOLE." From "Slang: the authoritative topic-by-topic dictionary of American lingoes from all walks of life" by Paul Dickson (Pocket Books, 1990, 1998).

I also found "fire in the paint locker" (Navy & USMC) which means "hurry up." From "Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, A-G" by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1994. And since we're on the topic of "fire." Remember when cartoon character Yosemite Sam's butt caught on fire. He ran around yelling, "Fire in the hatch!! My biscuits are burning!!" A fond childhood memory.