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Why so Angry?

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Hey, Camp Folks!

An interesting thing about language is its natural lean to adopt common phrases and expressions that are eventually so sewn into the fabric of our everyday speech that we use them without even realizing it. Today, I’m launching a new Blog category that investigates the origins of those handy, little turns of phrases that we know so well. Sayings like these are more specifically referred to as idioms or adages.

For our first adage, let’s look at the phrase ‘Fly off the Handle’.

When somebody is said to fly off the handle, it means that they suddenly lost their temper and exploded in anger. They may apologize for it afterward by saying, “Sorry I flew off the handle before.” It’s not something anybody really likes to be present for. It’s intense and potentially dangerous. But what handle are we talking about here and what’s flying off of it?

This phrase started in the lumber camps during the frontier days of America. Lumberjacks would find themselves in cold climates that would force wood to contract and shrink. They’d be out chopping away at a tree with an axe. And when the wooden handle shrunk just enough to no longer keep the snug fit within the axe head, the metal blade would go flying off.

It would happen very quickly, creating a rather intense and dangerous situation. This terrifying part of those long days of work as a lumberjack has been borrowed and used metaphorically to illustrate somebody’s explosion, coining the phrase ‘fly off the handle’.   

The first written mention with the quote “He flies right off the handle for nothing,” is found in Sam Slick—the works of a Canadian judge named Thomas C. Haliburton in 1843.

So, in closing, try not to fly off the handle on anybody in your life and be careful swinging those axes! As always, thanks for reading, Folks!


- John

Posted in Adage Origin


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