I found this term on the history of Tanenbaum and Torvalds debate, but I couldn't find the origin of the term.

I've understood the meaning (from UrbanDictionary):

A flame war is a heated argument between two individuals, that results in those involved posting personal attacks on each other during or instead of debating the topic at hand.

So, what is the origin?

  • 6
    For old hackerese like this, the best place to turn for early documentation is the Jargon File, here’s its entry on flame in the online debate sense: catb.org/jargon/html/F/flame.html
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 7, 2018 at 16:43
  • @DanBron Nice source! I'd accept this as answer, thanks! Aug 7, 2018 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


to flame OED figurative

b. Of persons: To burn (with envy, fury, indignation, etc.); to look angrily or passionately upon. to flame out, up: to break out into open anger or indignation; to ‘fire up’.

As in:

1548 N. Udall et al. tr. Erasmus Paraphr. Newe Test. I. Matt. xxii. f. 'Whiche wholy flame with enuy and hatred'.


1681 J. Crowne Henry VI i. iv. 49 I flame with fury to be at it.

More recently:

intr. slang (orig. and chiefly Computing). To rant, argue, or harangue, esp. via an electronic medium (such as e-mail or postings to a newsgroup); to send an inflammatory, abusive, or (esp. in early use) inconsequential e-mail or posting, usually as a hasty response or in a rapid, angry exchange. Also trans.: to send (a person) such a message. Cf. flame n. and adj.

as in:

1981 CoEvolution Q. Spring 31/1 Flame, to speak incessantly and/or rabidly on some relatively uninteresting subject or with a patently ridiculous attitude.

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