Understanding the Idiom: "short fuse" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
  • short temper

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “short fuse”

The idiom “short fuse” is a commonly used expression in modern English language. It refers to a person who has a quick temper and can easily become angry or upset. The origins of this phrase are not entirely clear, but it is believed to have originated in the early 20th century.

During this time period, explosives were commonly used in various industries such as mining and construction. Explosives were often ignited by a short fuse that burned quickly before detonating the explosive material. This led to the term “short fuse” being used metaphorically to describe someone who had an explosive temper that could ignite quickly like a short fuse.

Over time, the idiom became more widely used and its meaning expanded beyond just describing someone with a quick temper. Today, it can also refer to situations or events that have the potential to cause anger or frustration for individuals with little patience.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “short fuse”

The idiom “short fuse” is a commonly used expression in English that refers to someone who has a quick temper or becomes easily angered. This phrase can be used to describe individuals who are prone to outbursts of anger or those who become frustrated quickly.

There are several variations of this idiom that can be used in different contexts. One common variation is “to have a short fuse”, which means that someone is easily provoked or irritated. Another variation is “to light someone’s fuse”, which means to intentionally provoke or irritate someone.

In addition, there are many idiomatic phrases that use the word “fuse” in different ways. For example, “to blow a fuse” means to lose one’s temper suddenly and dramatically, while “to keep one’s cool” means to remain calm and composed in difficult situations.

When using the idiom “short fuse”, it is important to consider the context and tone of the conversation. While this phrase can be used humorously or playfully among friends, it may come across as insulting or confrontational when directed towards someone with an actual anger management issue.

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “short fuse”


  • Quick-tempered
  • Easily provoked
  • Irritable
  • Hot-headed
  • Temperamental
  • Volatile


  • Calm
  • Patient
  • Tolerant
  • Mellow
  • Laid-back
  • Easy-going

Cultural Insights:

The idiom “short fuse” is commonly used in American English to describe someone who gets angry or upset easily. This phrase can be heard in various settings such as workplaces, schools, and homes. It is important to note that while some cultures may view expressing anger as unacceptable behavior, others may see it as a sign of strength or assertiveness.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “short fuse”

Exercise 1: Think of a situation where someone has a short fuse. Describe their behavior and actions in detail, using the idiom appropriately.

Example: John has a short fuse when he’s stuck in traffic. He starts honking his horn, yelling at other drivers, and even getting out of his car to confront them. His impatience and anger are evident whenever he’s behind the wheel.

Exercise 2: Create a dialogue between two people where one person accuses the other of having a short fuse. Use appropriate language and tone to convey the frustration or annoyance felt by both parties.


Person A: “Why are you always so angry? You have such a short fuse!”

Person B: “I’m not angry! I just don’t like it when things don’t go my way.”

Person A: “That’s exactly what I mean! You get upset over every little thing.”

Exercise 3: Write a story or anecdote that involves someone with a short fuse. Use descriptive language to paint a vivid picture of their personality traits and how they react under pressure.


Samantha had always been known for her quick temper and short fuse. When she didn’t get her way, she would stomp her feet, slam doors, or even throw objects across the room. One day at work, Samantha was passed over for a promotion she had been hoping for. She stormed into her boss’s office, demanding an explanation and threatening to quit. Her boss calmly explained the reasons for his decision, but Samantha refused to listen. In the end, she stormed out of the office and never returned.

By practicing these exercises, you can improve your understanding and usage of the idiom “short fuse”. Remember that this expression refers to someone who is easily angered or frustrated, and tends to react impulsively in stressful situations. With practice, you can learn how to use this idiom effectively in your conversations and writing.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “short fuse”

Using the Idiom in Inappropriate Situations

One common mistake when using the idiom “short fuse” is using it in situations where it does not apply. For example, saying someone has a short fuse when they are simply having a bad day or feeling stressed can be inappropriate and insensitive. It is important to only use this idiom when referring to someone who becomes easily angry or irritated over small things.

Misunderstanding the Meaning of the Idiom

Another mistake is misunderstanding what the idiom actually means. Some people may think that having a short fuse means being explosive or violent, but this is not necessarily true. Having a short fuse simply means becoming easily angered or annoyed by minor things, and reacting in an emotional way.

To avoid these mistakes, it is important to understand the meaning of the idiom and use it appropriately. Additionally, being sensitive to others’ emotions and avoiding judgmental language can help prevent misunderstandings when using this phrase.

Mistake Tips for Avoiding
Using in inappropriate situations Only use when referring to someone who becomes easily angry or irritated over small things.
Misunderstanding meaning Understand that having a short fuse means becoming easily angered or annoyed by minor things.
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