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Are they really angry when they fire in anger?
question





A question from Pierre in France:

Could you, please, explain the meaning of the phrase "to fire or shoot (something or someone) in anger", and provide a paraphrase. I realise it doesn't actually mean to fire or shoot because one is angry. But I'm also unsure whether the phrase "to fire in anger" is used specifically in a war context or also applies to non-military conflicts.

Thank you in advance,
Pierre

To fire in anger




Answer




Ask about English

Rachel Wicaksono answers:

Hello Pierre, and thanks for sending in such a challenging question!

Well, none of the dictionaries I consulted (including a dictionary of military terms) had information about 'fire in anger', so I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to answer your question, Pierre! Luckily, two of my colleagues at York St John University are specialists in Military English and I was able to ask them about the meaning of the phrase. So, here goes...

In a military context, 'to fire in anger' means to shoot for a purpose in war. For example, a submarine that 'fires in anger' shoots missiles at an enemy ship. Shots fired in anger are never just for practice; they're fired to deliberately cause damage or harm.

When I typed "fire in anger" into an internet search engine, the military websites clearly used the phrase to mean 'shooting in war, not for practice'. Interestingly, as far as I could tell, the non-military websites used the phrase to mean 'to shoot angrily', or as you say in your question, 'to shoot because one is angry'. For example:
"The man waved his gun around, shouting and shooting in anger."

So I think the best answer to your question is that 'fire in anger' has two meanings, depending on whether the context is military or non-military.

The military meaning is 'in a real situation, not for practice' and has no connection with the emotion of the person or thing doing the shooting. You'll notice that from these authentic examples of the phrase, as used in a military context:

"The sinking of the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano, during the Falklands war by HMS Conqueror, the first British nuclear submarine ever to fire in anger, is fully recounted."

"...the first military guns in World War I to fire its guns in anger on British soil..."

"...becoming the first VII Corps unit to fire in anger since World War II."


Now, in contrast, the non-military use of 'fire in anger' implies strong emotion. In our previous example, we heard how...
"The man waved his gun around, shouting and shooting in anger."
So it's clearly implied that the gunman was extremely upset, distressed and angry about something he felt was very important.

I hope this helps, Pierre - and special thanks to my Military English colleagues for their specialist knowledge!


Rachel has taught English and trained teachers in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Japan and the UK. She is an IELTS examiner and a trainer and assessor for the Cambridge ESOL Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. Currently, Rachel works at York St John University where she is Head of Programme for the MA English Language Teaching and the International Foundation Certificate.





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