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a short fuse: meaning and explanation

If someone has a short fuse, then they have a tendency to lose their temper and get angry quickly or easily.

This could be a permanent aspect of someone’s personality, e.g. My brother’s got such a short fuse. He can be relaxed and happy one minute and screaming and shouting the next.

It could also be more temporary – someone might have a short fuse at a certain time. They might get angry more easily than normal because they are tired or stressed, for example. e.g. I should warn you that I hardly slept last night, so I’ve got a very short fuse this morning.

Sometimes, learning about the concrete meaning of an idiom can help you to understand and remember the more idiomatic/metaphorical meaning. Literally, a fuse is a piece of string or paper connected to an explosive device (like a bomb or a firework). You light (set fire to) the fuse, the flame travels down the fuse to the bomb, and the bomb explodes.

Fuses can be long or short. If they are long, then you have plenty of time to get to safety before the bomb explodes, or you can even stop the fuse burning before the bomb explodes. However, if the fuse is short, then the bomb will explode very quickly – you don’t have much time to get away or stop it happening.

In English, we take this idea and use it metaphorically – if a person has a short fuse, then they can get very angry (explode) quickly and easily.

Have a go at these micro-dictation exercises to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Micro-listening #1

Accent: North America

I’ve have a when you’ve skipped .

About the sentence

…when you’ve skipped your morning coffee…

If you skip something, then you don’t do something that you normally do or that you would be expected to do. e.g. He has a bad habit of skipping lunch because he’s so focussed on his work.

Micro-listening #2

Accent: England (RP)

Micro-listening #3

Accent: Scotland


Extra practice

Here are some questions/links to help you learn the new vocabulary:

  • Do you know anyone who has a particularly short fuse?
  • What about you – do you ever have a short fuse? Why?

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