Dropping Like Flies (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Dropping Like Flies"?

The term "dropping like flies" usually means a large number of people dropping out of a group. However, it can also mean a large number of living things falling ill or even dying.
Dropping Like Flies (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • As soon as the physical aspect of the course started, the attendees started dropping like flies.
  • Netflix subscribers are dropping like flies because there is so much competition now.
  • As soon as the car park switched to "pay and display," the children started to drop like flies from extracurricular activities.
  • At the start of the Ebola virus outbreak, people were dropping like flies.
  • (In this example, the term relates to people dying. Normally, the saying refers to people dropping out of a group. Bear in mind that it is insensitive to compare dead people to dead flies.)
The idiom "dropping like flies" is a simile (i.e., a figure of speech that likens one thing to another). The saying uses "flies" possibly because they have short life spans (house flies live about 28 days) but probably because they tend to die in large numbers when things go badly for them.

This saying originates from the early 19th century (evidence) and has been growing increasingly more popular since the 1940s.

While "dropping like flies" can refer to humans dying in large numbers, it is not - for reasons of sensitivity - not used in this context too often. Here, however, is one example from the "The Atlanta Constitution" in 1902 that does relate to human deaths.
  • "I saw men and women rushing back and forth within the flames. They would run along, then came the choking smoke and they would drop like dead flies."

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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