Barn burner is a colloquial expression, used for sporting events and matches, which are exciting and have a lot depending on their results, like a Rubber Match.
Despite is current meaning, “Barn burner” was used in an utterly different sense during its early years, in the first half of the 19th century.
“Barn burner” was used to refer to one of the competing factions within the Democratic Party in the United States, opposing the more conservative Hunkers.
The expression “Barn burner” is said to be a reference to a Dutchman, who would solve the problem of a rat-infested barn by burning the barn down – and possibly raking in the insurance money, blaming a Jewish Lightning.
This name was given to the radical faction within the Democrats due to the fact that they would go as far as burning up the entire system in order to fix it.
It appeared in print in political magazines as early as the 1820’s, especially in states such as New York and Pennsylvania.
With the passing of time, the competition between “Barn burners” and Hunkers was getting more and more passionate, and as it wouldn’t subside with the passing decades in the 1800’s, the phrase slowly transformed to refer to a heated debate, or an exciting contest.
Following the turn of the 20th century, its popularity died down a bit, only to be revived in the second half of the 1900’s, appearing in a plethora of contexts.
“Barn burner” was first defined on Urban Dictionary on November 21st, 2003, with several other entries to follow.
Today, it can be encountered in a ton of contexts, ranging from literature, movies, as well as music, serving as a popular colloquial expression.