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Q: Etymology of the phrase, "to get along like a house on fire" ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Etymology of the phrase, "to get along like a house on fire"
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: pfcouvar-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 19 Dec 2005 13:12 PST
Expires: 18 Jan 2006 13:12 PST
Question ID: 607609
What is the etymology of the phrase, "to get along like a house on
fire"?  I'd love to know exactly who coined it, when, and under what
circumstances -- but I'd settle for knowing roughly when & where it
appeared, or any solid, not-totally-speculative information on its

My own casual Googling reveals that some sources cite a second definition
(more or less, "to happen quickly") -- however, after a lifetime of
knowing it to mean "to get along well", I'm interested in the origins
of  that use specifically.  I'm only interested in the "to happen quickly"
meaning insofar as it relates to (i.e., forked off of, or led to) the
"get along well" meaning.

Request for Question Clarification by answerfinder-ga on 20 Dec 2005 02:26 PST
I think this may be lost in the mists of time. The exact Washington
Irvin quote mentioned below by pinkfreud appears below, but I have
found an earlier reference from 1741 quoted by Thomas Carlyle.

Title: A history of New York, from the beginning of the world to the
end of the Dutch dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker.
Author:  Irving, Washington, 1783-1859.

Page 473
In proportion, therefore, as a nation, a community, or an individual
(possessing the inherent quality of greatness) is involved in perils
and misfortunes, In proportion does it rise in grandeur - and even
when sinking under calamity, makes, like a house on fire, a more
glorious display then ever it did in the fairest period of its

Title: History of Friedrich the Second, called Frederick the Great
Author:  Carlyle, Thomas, 1795-1881.
Publication Info: New York,: Harper & brothers, 1862-1874.

Chap VI
Quoting Burgermeister Spener on 4th Dec 1741
?On the contrary, the love of your burger subjects - that, if you can
kindle it, will go on like a house on fire (Ausbruch eines Feueres),
and streams of water won?t put it out.?;cc=moa;xc=1;xg=1;type=simple;rgn=full%20text;q1=like%20a%20house%20on%20fire;view=reslist;subview=detail;sort=occur;start=1;size=25;didno=ABY8829.0003.001

Does this answer your question, even though, as I said, it unlikely
that the orignal source will be found?


Clarification of Question by pfcouvar-ga on 20 Dec 2005 06:18 PST
Thankls answerfinder -- that's good enough for me.  Much earlier than I had guessed!
Subject: Re: Etymology of the phrase, "to get along like a house on fire"
Answered By: answerfinder-ga on 20 Dec 2005 08:30 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dear pfcouvar-ga,
Thank you for accepting my research, I'll just say by way of an answer: see above!


Search strategy
Searches on various archives including the University of Michigan
Digital Library Production Service.
pfcouvar-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $1.00
Given my lowball bid, I thought this was an excellent answer.  Thanks answerfinder.

Subject: Re: Etymology of the phrase, "to get along like a house on fire"
From: pinkfreud-ga on 19 Dec 2005 13:28 PST
I doubt that anyone can tell you exactly who coined this phrase, or
exactly when. Slang phrases are often impossible to pinpoint with

This may be of some interest to you:
Subject: Re: Etymology of the phrase, "to get along like a house on fire"
From: myoarin-ga on 19 Dec 2005 16:01 PST
I would take Pink's comment and link as an answer.  It seems to
explain the origin of the expression and its use in other contexts. 
Nice, the reference to Washington Irving.
Subject: Re: Etymology of the phrase, "to get along like a house on fire"
From: answerfinder-ga on 21 Dec 2005 00:08 PST
Dear pfcouvar-ga,
Thank you for your tip. Pleased I could help.

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