When referring to people's skills, my (IT) circle sometimes refer to a person as being "fire and forget." This would indicate that you could tell such a person to accomplish a task, and they'd work it out themselves without constant supervision. The (to me) obvious etymology would be a fire-and-forget missile where the operator simply needs to target the weapon once as opposed to, say, a wire guided missile that requires needs to be manually guided to its target.

Is "fire and forget" widely understood in this context or is it just a geek thing?

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    Is "well understood" well understood? – Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 10 '11 at 21:39
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    I thought it referred to a person (usually manager) who sends an email and forgets about the task, and no one has to take that task seriously. How off was I ! – JoseK Jun 13 '11 at 9:37
  • It has occurred to me that one could interpret the meaning to be the opposite, namely: a person is a dud. My rationale is that you can fire such a person and just forget about it. – dave Jun 13 '11 at 19:17
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    It certainly wasn't "well understood" by me! At first I thought OP might have misheard "file and forget", which is common enough in office environments. Which gives plenty of scope for misunderstandings, because when applied to an office worker the two expressions have virtually opposite meanings. – FumbleFingers Jun 20 '12 at 23:34

It's common military terminology, so I would think that anyone who has a passing familiarity with military culture and military idioms (geeks tend to fall in this group) would understand it perfectly well. Military fiction is a common form of entertainment, so this phrase exists in the nebulous realm of pop culture as well.

I wouldn't call it universal, and I wouldn't call this usage common, but I think most English-speaking Americans would understand you.

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    I'd think military-themed video games might play a part as well. – user362 Jun 10 '11 at 20:04
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    But is the meaning given correct? Can you say what you think the meaning is? – Mitch Jun 20 '12 at 23:31
  • The asker's meaning isn't obvious from the military meaning. – Hugo Jun 21 '12 at 7:29

You're absolutely right.

The expression was first coined in the military sphere in the 80s when the so-called "intelligent munitions" were talked up by the industries to the western military bodies. Examples of these munitions were the MLRS, laser guided bombs or cruise missiles.

The main selling point was the impunity of the operator.

The expression then reached the IT world where reliability comes as a major quality.

The phrase spread from the military to the IT industry quite naturally because of the important involvement of the latter in the former.


The meaning of the term seems obvious to me now that I know the etymology, but I doubt most average folks know what a fire and forget weapon is either. Put it this way... I just found this page by googling the term after someone described a coworker as being "fire and forget." In the context the term was used, I could tell the meaning was positive, but without that context I would have assumed it was negative... like the person fired a weapon (did some work) and then forgot to check whether or not it hit the target (never checked to see if the overarching goal of the work was achieved).

  • Have to agree; in my mind there are two meanings. In the first instance you can "forget" because the system is so reliable that further control is unnecessary; in the second you may as well "forget" because the system is so primitive that further control is not possible. – user22631 Jun 20 '12 at 21:09

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