Dropping Like Flies – Meaning, Origin


The idiom drop like flies means a swift and large decrease in numbers, usually as a result of illness or death. It can also be because people lose interest in a certain activity and thus they stop doing it.

Example: When I bought this new F1 racing video game, there were thousands of players online. However, the total number of players has been dropping like flies these last few weeks. If this keeps up, I don’t know if there will be anyone left to play with.


Origin Of ‘Dropping Like Flies’

The origin of this phrase is unclear. However, it sounds like the expression ‘dropping like flies’ might have come from either the short life-span of a fly, or the fragile life that they have. For example, the life-span of a fly is quite short. According to the Center for Insect Science Education Outreach, a male fly’s average lifespan is about 33 days in a lab, while the female is about 26 days. So once a fly hatches from their pupal stage, they have around a month to live before they, well, drop dead.

One might also think about what happens to flies once they enters a person’s home. People generally do not want these insects buzzing around their home; so once they are spotted, the flies are probably not going to last very long. All it takes is for the homeowner to reach for a flyswatter and then the number of flies starts dropping soon after.

An early recording of this phrase is written in an article from The Atlanta Constitution newspaper, printed in 1902. Under the subheading “Men and Women Dropped Like Flies and Flames,” and it reads:

“I saw women and men rushing back and forth amid the flames for an hour. They would run along, then came the choking smoke and they would drop like dead flies.”

The details in the quote above come after a terrible volcanic eruption that occurred in the town of St. Pierre on that year.

Example Sentences

Here are two examples of this idiom in a sentence:

  • My co-workers were dropping like flies and had to call in sick after several of them were infected with a stomach flu.
  • The ants in his apartment began to drop like flies once he sprayed them with a can of bug spray.

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