Dropping Like Flies – Idiom, Meaning & Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Got your flyswatters ready? We’re tearing into a bug-riddled idiom today: dropping like flies. Don’t worry, it’s not an entomology lecture. Instead, we’re about to decipher the meaning and etymology of this colorful phrase. It’s not as morbid as it sounds, I promise!

What Does Dropping Like Flies Mean?

Dropping Like Flies – Idiom Meaning Origin

Dropping like flies certainly sounds a bit grim, doesn’t it? Thankfully, it’s not an instruction for pest control. When people or things are dropping like flies, they’re disappearing or becoming incapacitated in large numbers and fast. Whether it’s students nodding off in a long lecture or employees calling in sick during flu season, if they’re dropping like flies, there’s a mass exodus going on.

The day before my high school graduation, about 90% of the class came down with influenza. Yeah, fun times. We were dropping like flies during the ceremony, and more than half had gone home by the end.

Is Dropping Like Flies an Idiom?

Absolutely, it is! This phrase is a poster child for idiomatic expressions. Its literal interpretation is far from its actual, more figurative meaning. Just like how flies tend to fall in large numbers, this idiom paints a vivid picture of a similar situation among people or things.

Dropping Like Flies Origin and Etymology

Dopping Like Flies Ngram 1
Dropping like flies usage trend.

So where did this slightly macabre idiom buzz in from? Its origins lie in the 19th century, derived from the observable tendency of flies to drop dead in significant numbers, especially after being hit with insecticides or encountering less-than-ideal living conditions. Flies also have short life spans and die quite suddenly. 

One of the earliest instances of the phrase in print was in The Atlanta Constitution newspaper in 1902, “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.”

Synonyms for Dropping Like Flies

  • Falling by the wayside
  • Dying like flies
  • Falling off
  • Thin on the ground
  • Going down like ninepins

Dropping Like Flies Sentence Examples

Dropping Like Flies – Idiom Meaning Origin 1

Ready to see this phrase in action? Here are nine scenarios I put together:

  • With the sudden heatwave, the marathon runners were dropping like flies.
  • After the buffet at the sketchy seafood restaurant, we all started dropping like flies.
  • During flu season, students in my class were dropping like flies.
  • When the company announced layoffs, employees were dropping like flies.
  • The band played an extra-long set, and audience members were dropping like flies.
  • With the competition so intense, startups were dropping like flies.
  • “Without proper funding, local businesses are dropping like flies,” the mayor warned.
  • The minute the professor started discussing quantum physics, students started dropping like flies.
  • At the end of a long day, the little kids at the party were dropping like flies.

Swatting the Last Fly

You’re now equipped to use dropping like flies with the precision of a seasoned wordsmith. Keep in mind idioms can often seem peculiar, but they’re a testament to the dynamic, creative spirit of language. Have a quick read of my other idiom guides right here on the site!