Iron in the Fire: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
November 18, 2023

The phrase "iron in the fire" is often used to talk about having multiple opportunities or tasks going on at the same time. It could be projects, jobs, or any other endeavors a person is involved with. The phrase is generally used to express that you're keeping busy or have various options to fall back on.

In short:

  • It means you have several ongoing opportunities or tasks.
  • It's often used to show you're busy and have different options.

What Does "Iron in the Fire" Mean?

When someone says they have "an iron in the fire," they're talking about an ongoing task or opportunity they're engaged in. For example, if you're working a day job while also starting a side business and going to school part-time, you'd say you have several irons in the fire. The phrase points to multiple efforts or commitments you're juggling at the same time.

Let's break it down:

  • You say you have an "iron in the fire" when handling more than one project or task.
  • This phrase is used when you want to show you've got multiple opportunities or backup plans.
  • It often comes up when discussing multitasking or keeping busy with several things at once.
  • The phrase is commonly heard in both professional and casual conversations.
  • Other ways to say it include "wearing multiple hats," "juggling tasks," or "keeping many balls in the air."

Where Does "Iron in the Fire" Come From?

The idiom “iron in the fire” is believed to originate from the practice of blacksmithing. An efficient, skilled blacksmith would have the right amount of irons in the fire, irons that he could deal with comfortably. An over-ambitious smith might have too many irons in the fire and thus not be able to deal with them all. Since the mid-16th century, the expression has been used figuratively, where irons are options or plans of action.

10 Examples of "Iron in the Fire" in Sentences

To help you understand how to use "iron in the fire," let's look at some real-life examples:

  • She's not only a writer but also has an iron in the fire as a podcast host.
  • He's studying for his exams, working part-time, and learning to cook—talk about having multiple irons in the fire!
  • Even though she lost her main job, she had another iron in the fire with her freelance work.
  • They're trying to sell their house but have an iron in the fire with a new business startup.
  • The athlete has many irons in the fire, including a clothing line and a charity foundation.
  • She didn't put all her eggs in one basket; she had several irons in the fire when it came to job hunting.
  • The musician had an iron in the fire with his teaching gig, just in case his album didn't do well.
  • While waiting for his big acting break, he kept another iron in the fire by doing voice-over work.
  • She had a full-time job but also had an iron in the fire as a fitness trainer on weekends.
  • He's not only a student but has an iron in the fire by working part-time at the library.

Examples of "Iron in the Fire" in Pop Culture

This phrase is often used in movies, TV shows, or books to talk about multitasking or having backup plans:

  • The episode "Iron in the Fire" from Homeland focuses on multiple plotlines involving espionage and double-crossing. The episode is part of the show's fourth season and was reviewed by Kat Rosenfield for Entertainment Weekly.
  • In an article by The New York Times reviewing new CDs by David Weiss and Lloyd, the phrase "just one more iron in the fire" is used to describe David Weiss's band, Point of Departure, as one of his many projects.
  • Jason Katims, in an article on Bustle, is described as having "a few other iron in the fire" after his project 'Parenthood,' indicating that he has multiple projects underway.

Synonyms: Other Ways to Say "Iron in the Fire"

If you're looking for other ways to talk about having multiple options or tasks, consider these:

  • Keeping your options open
  • Juggling tasks
  • Wearing multiple hats
  • Having backup plans
  • Running more than one show
  • Doing double duty
  • Keeping busy with
  • Spinning many plates
  • Multitasking
  • Fingers in many pies

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Iron in the Fire":

  • What does "iron in the fire" mean?

The phrase "iron in the fire" can be used both literally and figuratively. In its literal sense, it refers to a piece of iron being heated in a fire, usually for blacksmithing. Figuratively, it means having multiple projects, responsibilities, or opportunities going on at the same time.

  • How can I use "iron in the fire" in a sentence?

You can use the phrase to talk about multitasking or having backup plans. For instance, "She has several irons in the fire, with her job, side business, and volunteer work."

  • Is the phrase used in a specific context?

"Iron in the fire" is a flexible phrase and can be used in various settings like workplaces, casual conversations, and even in academia. It's often used to talk about diversifying efforts or interests.

  • Does it indicate good or bad multitasking?

The phrase itself doesn't show if multitasking is good or bad; it just states that someone has multiple tasks or opportunities at hand. The context usually provides that info.

  • Is it a modern or old-fashioned saying?

The saying is quite old, originating from blacksmithing, but it's still widely used today to describe multitasking or having multiple projects.

  • Does it suggest caution or risk-taking?

The phrase doesn't necessarily suggest either caution or risk-taking. It's more about having multiple options or tasks, which could be either risky or safe, depending on the situation.

  • Is it commonly used in business settings?

Yes, you'll often hear "iron in the fire" in business settings when discussing multiple ventures, projects, or revenue streams.

  • Can it be used in a negative way?

Yes, in some contexts it can imply overcommitment or lack of focus if someone has too many irons in the fire.

  • Is it popular in pop culture?

It's not as popular as some phrases but you will occasionally hear it in movies or read it in books when characters are involved in multiple tasks or facing various challenges.

  • Is it generally used more by a particular age group?

No, the phrase cuts across all age groups. It's a common way to express the idea of juggling multiple tasks or opportunities, regardless of one's age.

Final Thoughts About "Iron in the Fire"

The idiom "iron in the fire" is a versatile way to talk about multitasking or having multiple plans or options. It's equally used at home in casual conversations and formal settings, like the workplace.

Here's a quick recap:

  • The phrase is handy for discussing multitasking or having backup plans.
  • It can be used in many settings and contexts, including professional and personal.
  • "Iron in the fire" can indicate good or bad multitasking, depending on the context.
  • The phrase is timeless, understood, and used by people of all ages.

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