(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.
Contemporary Examples

Now, amid legal tussles with his kids and a judge, that move could backfire on the millionaire, reports Jacqui Goddard.
How Florida Polo Mogul’s Girlfriend-Adoption Ploy May Backfire Jacqui Goddard February 12, 2012

Republicans also argue that the move will backfire politically.
Hillaryland Chafes at Obama’s Debate Sarcasm Michelle Cottle October 23, 2012

In Perfect Lives, determined and sometimes desperate attempts to attain perfection tend to backfire.
Rocking to Perfection Lizzie Crocker April 3, 2011

And so scorning the whole idea of competition just because it can backfire in a tiny minority feels reflexive and unnecessary.
Confessions of an Extreme Yogi Benjamin Lorr December 30, 2012

Morrissey condemns William for hunting, and says he hopes his gun will ‘backfire in his face’
Mozza: William Is A Thickwit For Hunting Boar Tom Sykes February 10, 2014

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.
Chicken Little Jane on the Big John Lily Munsell Ritchie

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

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)

an explosion of unburnt gases in the exhaust system
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

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.


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