from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A metal box for holding tinder.
  • noun A potentially explosive place or situation.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A small container containing flint, steel, and tinder (dry, finely-divided fibrous matter), once used to help kindle a fire.
  • noun by extension a place that is so dry and hot that there is danger of fire.
  • noun by extension a potentially dangerous situation.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a dangerous state of affairs; a situation that is a potential source of violence
  • noun a box for holding tinder


Sorry, no etymologies found.



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  • Historically, a tinderbox is a small container containing flint, steel, and dry, finely-divided fibrous matter (such as straw), used together to help kindle a fire. Tinderboxes fell out of general usage when matches were invented.


    February 24, 2008

  • "The surge-ified, 'less violent' Iraq that the general has presided over so confidently is, in fact, a chaotic, violent tinderbox of city states, proliferating militias armed to the teeth, competing regions armed to the teeth, and competing religious factions armed to the teeth. Worse yet, under Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the U.S. has been the great proliferator. It has armed and funded close to 100,000 Sunnis organized into militias reportedly intent on someday destroying 'the Iranians' (i.e. the Maliki government). It has also supported Shiite militias (aka the Iraqi army). In the recent offensive, it took sides in a churning Shiite civil war."

    - 'General Entrap-Us or General Entrapped?', Ira Chernus, 6 April 2008.

    April 7, 2008

  • In your darkest hour he is the tiniest light

    The smallest of sparks

    He's a tinderbox, he's a flaming torch.

    (The life pursuit, by Belle and Sebastian)

    November 10, 2010