Dropping Like Flies – Meaning, Origin

Meaning:

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 this new racing game released, there were thousands of players playing it online. But now, weeks later, the number of players has decreased by a lot; they are dropping like flies. If this keeps up, I don’t know if anyone will be left to play with.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
None.

Origin Of ‘Dropping Like Flies’

The origin of the phrase ‘dropping like flies’ is unclear. However, it sounds like it may 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 a fly once it enters a person’s home. Once spotted, the fly probably isn’t going to last very long. Even if there are several flies, all it takes is for a person to grab a flyswatter, then the flies start dying in numbers shortly after. So perhaps the phrase comes from how quickly they drop dead once inside someone’s house. Only a guess, though!

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 from a terrible volcanic eruption that occurred in the town of St. Pierre on that year.


Example Sentences

Here are two examples of this idiom used in a sentence:

  1. My co-workers were dropping like flies when one of them came in sick and inadvertently infected everyone with a terrible illness.
  2. Ray used a can of bug repellent to spray a bunch of ants, and so they began to drop like flies.

Note: This site has the definitions of many idioms, however, when it comes to their origins, it is not always clear where they originate from. So in cases like this, what I’ll generally try to do is include on the page the oldest known quote of the idiom being used. This can at least give you an idea on just how far back in history it goes.