Hang Fire

This rarely heard idiom has existed since the early 1800’s.

Meaning

As an idiom, to hangfire (or hang fire) means to delay an action or to be delayed in an accomplishment or action; to come to no distinct result; to fail to achieve an expected result.

Origin

The literal meaning of hangfire or hang-fire comes from military action or from guns or other military weapons. A misfire is when a charge fails to explode and a gun does not go off.

Guns like this would frequently fail to fire, or misfire. Sometimes there would be a delay in firing, called a hangfire: The source of the idiom ‘to hang fire.’

A hangfire, on the other hand, is when there is an appreciable delay between attempting to fire a gun and the gun actually firing. This could be caused by the gun needing further priming, so a gun would be said to be hanging fire until it could be fixed. Although modern guns have been improved to the extent that hangfires are extremely rare, in the past they were common.

Hangfire can also mean an order to delay fire on the battlefield until some action could be carried out was an order to hang fire. To hang fire was to hold your fire.

As an idiom, hang fire is an allusion to this delay of an expected action or result.

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