Haut comme trois pommes

Haut comme trois pommes

Illustration by MelinArt.

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s expression is, “Haut comme trois pommes.”

Literally translated as, “high as three apples,” it is used to point out that someone — often a child — is small or very short. I’ve seen it translated to “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although I’ve never heard that cute English expression myself.

Example: “Il était haut comme trois pommes et devait courir pour rattraper ses soeurs.” (He was high as three apples and had to run to catch up with his sisters.)

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

It is an early-twentieth-century expression that I love for its literalness: pile up three apples on top of one another, and you get an idea of just how small the person is (especially since the average early-twentieth-century apple was significantly smaller than what is marketed now). There is also something affectionate and sweet about comparing a child to a pile of apples, which threatens to topple any second. (It is, however, rather condescending if used for an adult.)

This idiom was used by Peyo to describe the size of his Smurfs (or rather les Schtroumpfs), although they are clearly much smaller than that in comparison to the mushrooms they inhabit, or Azraël the evil cat. This was translated to “three apples high” in the English version of the comic.

The expression is also the opening line of the song that accompanied the closing credits of Tom Sawyer, a Japanese anime that was wildly popular with French kids in the eighties. (I apologize if you have that song stuck in your head for the next two days; I’ve been there.)

  • Felix

    the german noun dreikäsehoch (three-cheeses-high) is very similar: it is used for small children as well.

  • JC

    I recall that the description of the Smurfs was that they wer also “three apples high.”

  • Clara

    Hello Kitty in her official bio weighs as much as three apples – but is as tall as five apples.

  • I love this one! And I do remember hearing ‘knee high to a grasshopper’, it’s maybe a bit northern British English.

  • What a lovely website – very pleased to have found it. These language equivalents of “haut comme trois pommes” are extremely interesting. I’d never heard the expression “to a grasshopper” after “knee-high” :-)

  • adsum-iam

    Yes, the phrase ‘knee-high to a grasshopper’ is still used in the north of England; and while we’re thinking about great visual images, how about ‘sparrow-legs’, usually when referring fondly to a child with skinny little legs.

  • SoRefined

    I have heard both “knee high to a grasshopper” and the cuter sounding but when you think about it less sense-making “knee high to a pig’s eye.” (I am in the USA. Raised in the midwest.)

    • Never heard that one either, thanks for sharing!

  • I remember that song! Thank you for reminding me of it :) And also thank you for apologising, I can’t stop humming it!

  • Jennifer

    Just bought the new issue of giorni magazine in Tokyo, and was pleasantly surprised to find the article about you! What a cute kitchen, too.

    • How fun Jennifer, thank you! The shoot was a lovely experience. :)

  • julie

    “Knee high to a grasshopper” is quite commonly used in Australia. “Height of three apples” is cute…

    • Good to know, thanks! I do hear it quite nicely in my mind’s ear, spoken with an Australian accent. :)

  • Kathy Manelis

    The “knee high to a grasshopper” is more of a 19th century country expression in the US, although, it is still used to be cute. I have only heard it used in reference to children.

    I found this site the other day and fell in love….in love, I say!!

    • Thanks Kathy, that means a lot! ^_^

  • Bryan James

    “knee high to a grasshopper” must have crossed the Atlantic to Canada with immigration, my family used that phrase often.

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