What Does Fly Off The Handle Mean?

Fly Off the Handle Meaning

Definition: To lose one’s temper.

Origin of Fly Off the Handle

This expression first appeared in the 1800s, and the allusion is to that of an ax (is it ax or axe?) flying off its handle. Imagine if you were cutting a tree with an ax, and the metal part of the ax suddenly flew off the handle. It would happen very quickly and be very dangerous.

Likewise, when someone figuratively flies off the handle, it can be dangerous to be around that person.

An early use of this phrase was by Thomas Haliburton’s Sam Slick in English, 1843:

  • He flies right off the handle for nothing.

Examples of Fly Off the Handle

 flying off the handle In this example, two friends are quietly discussing news from their other friends when one of them suddenly becomes upset.

Cassie: Hey! Did you hear that Robert got married?

Rebecca: Yeah! I can’t imagine him settling down. Did you hear that Chris had a baby?

Cassie: Wow! No.

Rebecca: Yeah. And Hannah just got her PhD.

Cassie: Don’t you dare ever speak that name to me! Get out of my house! Leave! Now!

Rebecca: Calm down! I forgot that you were so angry at Hann-…I mean, I forgot that you were so angry at her. I won’t mention her name again. I promise.

Cassie: After what she did to me? How could you forget that. Get out. I need some time to calm down!

Rebecca: Fine! I wish you didn’t fly off the handle like this. You need to get yourself under control.

fly off the handle originIn the dialogue below, two men are getting out of a parked car when one of them hits the door on the curb.

Antonio: Thanks for driving to the restaurant. It’s great that we found street parking so close to the place.

Igor: Yeah. I’m excited to eat! Come on. Let’s get out.

Antonio: Whoops!

Igor: What happened?

Antonio: I’m sorry! I accidentally hit your door into this lamppost when I was getting out. It made a little dent and scratched off just a little paint. But don’t worry! It’s not noticeable at all.

Igor: ARRRRRGH! Do you know how much money I spent on this paint job? Are you stupid?

Antonio: Listen, I’ll pay to repair the damage, but it’s not okay for you to fly off the handle over something like this. Calm down!

More Examples

This excerpt says that even one police officer, who is usually calm, is upset currently.

  • But the city’s top cop, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who doesn’t fly off the handle as easily as Lynch, said Monday he feels as much contempt as Lynch about Tarantino suggesting cops are “murderers.” –USA Today

This example is about a retired cop who became angry easily. He shot his neighbor’s boyfriend.

  • Barrett — who retired on disability because of a bad back — is known to fly off the handle “over anything and everything,” the sources said. –New York Post


The phrase to fly off the handle means to become very upset and lose all control.