Italian Idiom: Perdere le staffe (to lose your temper / lose control)

The other day at the park, a man allowed his leash-less dog to bound up to my three-year-old, and had the nerve to tell me to keep an eye on my child (who was holding his grandmother’s hand at the time). Did I lose my cool? No, but I was *this* close!

When you reach a level of anger where you can no longer contain yourself, you can use the Italian phrase perdere le staffe to describe the experience. This expression means “to lose one’s temper / control.”

perdere le staffe

Some other possible translations include:

  • to fly off the handle
  • to blow a fuse / your top
  • to hit the roof
  • to lose your cool

Perdere is a verb that usually translates as “to lose” but may also mean “to miss” or “to waste,” as you can see from the following examples:

  • perdere il portafoglio = to lose one’s wallet
  • perdere peso = to lose weight
  • perdere i capelli = to lose one’s hair
  • perdere il sonno = to lose sleep
  • perdere interesse = to lose interest
  • perdere una scommessa = to lose a bet
  • perdere il treno = to miss the train
  • perdere tempo = to waste time

But what about le staffe? Le staffe refer to the stirrups that riders use when on horseback. Without these stirrups, a rider could lose stability on a horse. This imagery of losing stability in the context of riding draws a metaphorical comparison to the idea of losing control over one’s emotions.

Young man leading group of people protesting on the street.

A similar idiom is perdere la bussola, with bussola meaning compass or bearings. It draws a parallel between the notion of losing one’s way in a physical sense and losing control in an emotional context. However, keep in mind that this idiom can also mean “to lose one’s bearings” in a more literal sense.

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