Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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BACK-FIRE, v. and adv.

1. v. (See quot.) Abd. 1932 2 :
When the nipple of a flint lock gun became enlarged and the explosion came backwards, the gun was said to backfire. The term came to be used also when a gun “putted” or rebounded.

2. adv. fig.

(1) Of cattle: off in condition. Sc. 1911  S.D.D. Add.:
In phr. “to gyang back-fire”; used of grazing cattle: to fall off in condition through the failure of grass.

(2) Of persons: away from one's purpose or intention. Bnff. 1932 2 :
The aul' umman wiz keen on the trip on Setturday nicht, bit noo she's geen back-fire on't.

[According to our correspondents the term was used before the time of the internal combustion engine in connection with chimneys, steam engines and flint lock guns.]

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"Back-fire v., adv.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 18 Mar 2019 <>



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