I remember something like "fighting fire with fire", but I'm not sure if it's a common saying in English, or in my native language. Are there any other sayings that explain this kind of siutation?


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    "Fight fire with fire" is a well-known English idiom (at least in the US). And it is often parodied with ad-hoc sayings such as "Fight idiocy with idiocy". – Hot Licks Jan 3 '16 at 21:32
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    See also "give him a taste of his own medicine." – miken32 Jan 3 '16 at 22:01

Whilst Shakespeare did not coin the expression he said something to the effect, with similar meaning in King John 1595.

Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire; Threaten the threatener and outface the brow Of bragging horror

This is the sense in which fight fire with fire is used today. However the origins of the actual wording are rather different:

The source of this phrase was actual fire-fighting that was taken on by US settlers in the 19th century. They attempted to guard against grass or forest fires by deliberately raising small controllable fires, which they called 'back-fires', to remove any flammable material in advance of a larger fire and so deprive it of fuel. This literal 'fighting fire with fire' was often successful, although the settlers' lack of effective fire control equipment meant that their own fires occasionally got out of control and made matters worse rather than better. One such failure was recorded in Caroline Kirkland's novel, based on her experiences of frontier Michigan in the 1840s, A New Home - Who'll Follow? Or, Glimpses of Western Life (written under the pseudonym of Mrs. Mary Clavers):

More information is available here: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/fight-fire-with-fire.html

So in origin, the expression had a very literal meaning. Nowadays it is generally used in the sense of an imperative to fight war and aggression with the same.


@WS2's answer is explicit.

Here's my shot in the dark:

Use the hair of the dog that bit you.

Here's an article on it

  • Except that that idiom really only refers to drinking to cure a hangover. – Hot Licks Jan 4 '16 at 0:31
  • @HotLicks: The two concepts are similar, aren't they. – Ricky Jan 4 '16 at 0:57
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    Not strongly similar. The hair of the dog is "more of the same" to fix a problem, whereas "fire with fire" is employing the same technique as your opponent. If the "technique" is guns, "fire with fire" would mean shooting back when shot at, but "the hair of the dog" would have you shoot yourself after someone else shoots you. – Hot Licks Jan 4 '16 at 1:01

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