v. To have the desired or expected effect.
I want to discuss that false psychic you paid to bring Heather messages from the dead. It was a thoughtful idea, but one that backfired and then, ultimately, in its own way, frontfired, giving Heather more hope than you'd imagine.
—Douglas Coupland, Hey Nostradamus!, Random House Canada, July 01, 2003
Those who want to see a better, more equitable hurling championship will be cheering for Tipperary at Croke Park today. …

Everyone knows that Nicky English has a wide range of bodies and options available to him. The majority of the changes he makes are in attack, which makes you wonder if the Tipperary forwards tend to look rather too quickly towards the bench when things don't go well for them. So strength in depth can sometimes backfire.

Talking of backfire, frontfire or whatever, John Carroll can give it both barrels, and simultaneously.
—Liam Griffin, “For the championship's sake, it must be Tipp,” Sunday Tribune (Dublin, Ireland), August 18, 2002
1990 (earliest)
Q Cover up what, Senator?
SEN. MCCAIN: The findings and recommendations of the Special Counsel.
Q Why do you think this was delayed?
SEN. MCCAIN: I have no idea.
Q Do you think that your call yesterday attributed to it?
SEN. GLENN: I don't know.
SEN. MCCAIN: The information that I had —
SEN. GLENN: We've been ready to have it released for a long time?
SEN. MCCAIN: Yeah. This was after the — the call yesterday, as you know, was after six weeks that — after the Special Counsel had made his findings and recommendation.
Q So you think it backfired?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I — frankly, I have no idea. You don't know whether you backfire or frontfire. You do what you think is right.
—October 23, 1990
Frontfire is the opposite of backfire. The latter verb has been in the language since at least 1886 and it originally referred to lighting a fire ahead of an advancing prairie-fire to deprive it of fuel. By the early 1900s, the verb had imported a second sense meaning to ignite or explode prematurely, particularly with an internal-combustion engine or a firearm. The figurative sense — to have the opposite effect of the one desired or expected — entered the language around 1912.
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