Learn English – How and when did ‘being fired’ come to mean losing one’s job


I searched this site and also searched etymology online and could find nothing about this question.

The Ngram AmE shows that the phrase 'fired from job' began in the early 1920s for AmE and the Ngram BrE indicates that BrE only begins to have results from the late 1960s.

In BrE, the phrase 'being sacked' (Ngram BrE) is more popular and is more understandable as one would carry a sack home with any personal possessions, much as today people are seen with the ubiquitous cardboard box.

Where does the expression come from and why did it suddenly appear in the 1920s in the USA ?

Note: The Ngrams probably do not mean a lot, as there must be overlap with other meanings of 'being sacked' and merely querying 'being fired' would be useless.

Edit After Comment : The Ngram for 'given the sack' in BrE. Some correlation with 'being fired' in AmE.

Further Edit : The OED does not (that I can find) refer to losing a job but there is a considerable entry for 'fire' with regard to the discharge of a weapon so I am beginning to see that 'fire' from a job means to 'discharge' someone and the analogy is to weaponry.

Best Answer

to fire in the sense of being fired: Etymonline.com

The sense of "sack, dismiss from employment" is recorded by 1885 (with out; 1887 alone) in American English. This probably is a play on the two meanings of discharge (v.): "to dismiss from a position," and "to fire a gun," influenced by the earlier general sense "throw (someone) out" of some place (1871).

and from the OED

  • fire 1879
  • transitive orig. U.S. slang. To dismiss (a person) from a job or position; to sack.