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[bak-fahyuh r] /ˈbækˌfaɪər/
verb (used without object), backfired, backfiring.
(of an internal-combustion engine) to have a loud, premature explosion in the intake manifold.
to bring a result opposite to that which was planned or expected:
The plot backfired.
to start a fire deliberately in order to check a forest or prairie fire by creating a barren area in advance of it.
(in an internal-combustion engine) premature ignition of fuel in the intake manifold.
an explosion coming out of the breech of a firearm.
a fire started intentionally to check the advance of a forest or prairie fire.
Origin of backfire
An Americanism dating back to 1775-85; back2 + fire
2. miscarry, boomerang; flop, bomb, wash out. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for backfire
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The backfire had burned for many yards westward, to meet the threatening wave of flame flying on the wings of the wind.

    Frances of the Ranges Amy Bell Marlowe
  • He got three chugs and a backfire into the carburetor, and after that silence.

    Cabin Fever B. M. Bower
  • I felt it was, because it was too sharp for a backfire of an automobile.

    Warren Commission (7 of 26): Hearings Vol. VII (of 15) The President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy
  • They must backfire for a third of a mile before they dared hope the place was safe.

  • It had caught fire from the backfire of the engine and the exhaust, but was not yet in a decided blaze.

    Lest We Forget John Gilbert Thompson
British Dictionary definitions for backfire


verb (intransitive)
(of an internal-combustion engine) to emit a loud noise as a result of an explosion in the inlet manifold or exhaust system
(of an endeavour, plan, etc) to have an unwanted effect on its perpetrator: his plans backfired on him
to start a controlled fire in order to halt an advancing forest or prairie fire by creating a barren area
(in an internal-combustion engine)
  1. an explosion of unburnt gases in the exhaust system
  2. a premature explosion in a cylinder or inlet manifold
a controlled fire started to create a barren area that will halt an advancing forest or prairie fire
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for backfire

1839, American English, originally "a fire deliberately lit ahead of an advancing prairie fire to deprive it of fuel," from back (adj.) + fire (n.). As a verb in this sense, recorded from 1886. The meaning "premature ignition in an internal-combustion engine" is first recorded 1897. Of schemes, plans, etc., "to affect the initiator rather than the intended object" it is attested from 1912, a figurative use from the accidental back-firing of firearms.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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