Fly off the Handle

Posted by ESC on October 21, 1999

In Reply to: Origin of 'Fly off the Handle'? posted by J S on October 20, 1999

: When talking with a friend, I used the idiom:
"fly off the handle" to describe someone who would abruptly lose his temper.
: (I believe that is the correct meaning). Subsequently,we got into a discussion about the origins of the phrase; he believes that it has something to do with the railroad and I believe that it has to do with firearms. I searched the list here and did find it.
: Could someone clarify the origins of this phrase for us? Any help is greatly appreciated.

: -J

From Why You Say It: The Fascinating Stories Behind over 600 Everyday Words and Phrasesby Webb Garrison (Rutledge Hill Press, Nashville, Tenn.)
"Fly off the handle - If you've ever seen a person 'fly off the handle,' you may have been impressed at the energy and speed involved with that eruption of anger. Frontiersmen found it hard to control their tempers when tools suddenly failed them. A common cause of such a turn of events was the shrinkage of wood - universally used to tool handles. After having hung in a shed for months, the handle of a hoe or a rake was likely to come off after a few strokes. In the case of an ax, badly worn or shrunken wood is positively dangerous because the head of the tool can come loose at the first lick. When the blade of an ax flies off the handle, it endangers the user and everyone standing nearby. That makes it almost as great a source of danger as a violent explosion of temper."