Backfire (on someone)

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Meaning of Idiom 'To Backfire (on someone)'

When something, such as a plot, plan, project, situation, or idea unexpectedly produces a bad result which harms the person carryng out the plot, plan, idea, etc. it is said to have backfired on that person; a failure which results in an undersired result. 1

Example Of Use

"The company's plan to influence legislation by donating to the environmental summit backfired when it exposed their horrible environmental abuses."

"I was sure Ted's plan was going to backfire but amazingly, it worked."


This idiom alludes to an explosion coming from the breech of a firearm, [thus moving backwards] due to a blockage, etc. and harming the user instead of firing a bullet. Vehicles can also backfire, but this is not the source of the expression.

Used since at least the early 1900's.

1. Spears, Richard A., and Luc Nisset. McGraw-Hill's Essential American Idioms. McGraw-Hill Contemporary Learning, 2008.

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