barn burner n
1 An impressive and exciting specimen of its kind; esp a gripping performance or contest.
1913 Davis Hist. NV 1.397 (as of c1865), Barnes retorted. “If that man is talking merely for friendship, what a barn-burner of an argument he could make if he got a fee.” 1925 Amer. Legion Weekly 2 Jan 12, “Chee, I’d like to meet that one,” he adds, sheepish like, his eyes still fastened on the big blonde. “She’s a barn burner, eh, Mike?” I says. 1938 Galveston Daily News (TX) 9 April 13/7, Biff Jones, Nebraska’s head man of football, tells our own Art Wolf: “ . . Everywhere I go the fans think we have a barn burner coming up.” 1949 Kenosha Eve. News (WI) 28 July 12/2, [Advt:] We have a real “Barn-Burner” this week. Come in and ask Joe about the best Jazz Album in Years. 1968 DARE (Qu. FF17, . . “We all had a _____last night.”) Inf MN38, Barn burner. 1979 Verbatim Letters IL (as of 1940), Barn burner—My wife went back stage at the intermission of one of Jean Kerr’s plays to congratulate her on the excellence of her play and used this term to describe its resounding success. Ms Kerr was puzzled and asked what it meant. Apparently it is midwest in origin. 1981 Post–Std. (Syracuse NY) 12 Mar sec B 4/4, “If he has some more practice time, he could take it (the title),” the coach said, “but if he gets in a couple of barnburners (matches where he must exert himself for a full eight minutes), it could be tough.” 2008 Orange Leader (TX) 15 Feb sec A 7/6, It’s time to get rowdy as country musician Jason Aldean returns to Beaumont for what will surely be another barn burner of a concert.
2 also barn(-burner) match, barn lighter: A match that can be struck on any surface. [Prob from the belief that barn fires are often caused by rats getting hold of matches of this type] chiefly PA, sNJ, MD See Map
1943 Gettysburg Times (PA) 18 June 7/1, [Advt:] Stock Clearance Sale: . . Large boxes Barnburner matches 3¢. 1950 Daily Mail (Hagerstown MD) 6 Apr 6/3, The boys had been . . playing with “barn burner” matches, one of which was tossed through one of the holes in the windows. 1965–70 DARE (Qu. F46, . . The kind of matches you can strike anywhere) 27 Infs, PA, sNJ, MD, Barn burners; IA22, PA194, 213, Barn matches; PA63, Barn lighter. 1966 DARE File sePA, Barn burners—wooden matches with a tip that strikes anywhere. 2011 in 2014 DARE File—Internet PA, All my coats and jackets have a small box of strike anywhere AKA, “barn burner” matches in them. . . I’m sure everyone knows this too, but if you dip your matches (I especially like doing this with the barnburners) in hot wax, it . . [m]akes them waterproof.