Why Do We Say “You’re Fired” When You Lose Your Job?

Jerry Anderson   December 13, 2015   Comments Off on Why Do We Say “You’re Fired” When You Lose Your Job?
The tenuous existence led by our human ancestors in the distant past placed a premium on the values of cooperation, responsibility and communal living. After all, in these days before the rise of civilizations, small groups of people were isolated from one another and had no one to rely upon for survival except themselves. All food, clothing, shelter and other necessities had to be produced by the group in a cooperative effort that would help assure survival. No supermarkets to buy food at. No malls to go shopping in for clothing. No general contractors to build you a home. All had to be done by the individual and the group in cooperation and with as much harmony as could be generated.

Even in the face of these overwhelming demands on the need for cooperation in order to help assure survival, human nature revealed its negative side. Some individuals, though members of the group, refused to do what was necessary to contribute their fair share to the effort to survive. They may have been thieves, gossips, lazy or in other ways untrustworthy. They were a threat to the survival of the group, using valuable resources but contributing little, if anything, to group security and survival.

“Nothing to do, and all day to do it in.”

What to do with such a person? When the unproductive and problematic individual was away from his dwelling place, the others in the communal group would gather there and set it on fire and burn it to the ground. When the person returned he and/or she would see what was done and know immediately they were no longer wanted as a member of the communal group. With no place to live, they had to leave, with the likelihood of survival being slim.

Outsiders were looked upon as enemies and were rarely accepted as members of another group. Death was the most likely result of being cast out of the group.

“Go away!”

This story explains why if we are no longer wanted at our place of employment, and we lose our job, we are said to be “fired.” It also explains why the word “fire” came to be associated with the word for losing one’s job. It’s an interesting story to tell because it connects something we all have heard and spoken with its forgotten origin. I admit it. I’m a geek when it comes to things like this. I have read other stories about the origin of this word, but this is my favorite.

25% of working age Americans were “fired” or unemployed in 1932

And don’t forget that cooperation was the quality that often determined whether or not groups of early colonists survived, Jamestown being a prime example of this concept. It was there that Captain John Smith uttered his famous order that helped save the colony from imminent failure, “Work, or starve!”

Captain John Smith laid down this rule: “Work or starve.”

Another version of the origin of this term is much more recent. According to some word historians the term “fired out” was a phrase first recorded in 1871 and meant to throw out or eject a person from a place, not necessarily from a place of employment. By 1884 the term had been altered and shortened to “fire” and referred to the dismissal of an individual from their job. Supposedly, both these terms, “fired out” and “fired,” make an etymological reference to the “firing” or “discharging” of a gun. So, take your pick. Let me know, contact me, and let me know which one you like best.

Satan being thrown out of Heaven. An illustration from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” He was “fired” as an archangel, and was quoted as saying, “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

Let’s end with a short clip from Donald Trump’s reality TV show “The Apprentice.”
You know what’s coming, what he is going to say. Here it is:

So there you have it. Two versions of a word origin. Take your pick. Or, seek out your own story!