Misfire: fail to explode (firework, bomb)

Xavier da Silva

Senior Member
Hello everybody,

Does "misfire" meaning "fail to explode", "not explode" - firework, bomb (very smal, medium or big) - sound natural/correct in everyday conversation in the examples I made below?

a. I set off a firework, but it misfired.
b. I decided to set off a bomb, but it misfired. On the day of this party, it is a part of the Brazilian culture to set off very small bombs to liven up the party.

Thank you in advance!
  • Linkway

    Senior Member
    British English
    When talking about fireworks, we usually say: "It didn't go off" or "It failed to go off".


    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I don't think I've ever seen a bomb described as having "misfired". It's usually "[the bomb] didn't go off [properly]". :)
    I cannot think of a context where "misfire" works if there's no projectile involved.:thumbsup:
    I can't either.

    So, I'd say that misfire only works when a projectile IS involved.

    (Missile, rocket, launched firecracker, etc. Even so, it wouldn't necessarily having anything to do with "not exploding" but more with "going in the wrong direction/not obtaining the required height, falling back to earth."

    And as PaulQ says in post #7, and other have pointed out, it does NOT mean by itself "failed to explode."

    The meanings describe two very different events.


    Senior Member
    Okay. My point is that "misfire" can be used in talk about car engines. As far as I can tell, no notion of a projectile is implied in such talk.

    Like the other members, I've never heard "misfire" used in talk about firecrackers and bombs.


    Senior Member
    British English
    "Misfire" is used when the "thing" DID fire, explode or ignite, but NOT in the correct way.

    An engine that is misfiring, needs it's timing adjusting or sparkplugs attended to - an engine that is dead and completely fails to fire is NOT misfiring.

    I don't know much about guns and artillery, but I imagine that a misfire means that the weapon did fire but not properly, not fully, or not at the right moment.

    So if the fireworks or firecrackers or firework "bombs" failed to ignite, "misfiring" not only sounds wrong, it is also logically wrong - ie misfiring is not failing to fire as such, but firing in an abnormal and defective way.


    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I'm pretty sure the term "misfire" comes from the old flintlock rifles and black powder cannons of the past.

    With the flintlock you had two opportunities to misfire. First the flint hitting the steel could fail to ignite the primer, and then the primer could fail to ignite the black powder charge that drove the bullet.

    Here is an image of a flintlock firing, and you can see the primer charge is ignited:

    As a metaphor it can mean any event that failed to perform as expected.

    The comedian told several Bin Laden jokes after he was executed and no one laughed. The jokes misfired.

    The company developed a new ad campaign that featured a woman slapping her boss, and that resulted in a loss of business. The ad campaign misfired.
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