Le ver est dans le fruit


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 idiom is, “Le ver est dans le fruit.”

Literally translated as, “the worm is in the fruit,” it means that the damage is done, that a situation is inherently faulty, and that it’s impossible or too late to do anything about it. It can also be used humorously, to comment with mock fatalism on the way a situation is turning, or is bound to turn.

Example: “Ils ont beau essayer de lutter contre la corruption, le ver est dans le fruit.” “Try as they might to fight corruption, the worm is in the fruit.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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

The idea is that once a worm enters a piece of fruit and starts to eat its way through the flesh, little can be done to stop it, and eventually the fruit will be worthless. (For the record, I just cut out the worm-eaten part and eat the rest.) On a larger scale, and though I have little fruit-growing experience, I imagine that once worms have taken up residence in your orchard, they must be a tough pest to fight.

One might think this expression simply based on good old-fashioned bon sens paysan (rural common sense), but its origin is in fact more dignified: Victor Hugo first used it in a poem published in 1840 (“Hélas ! hélas ! le ver est dans le fruit superbe !”) and Paul Verlaine used it later (this time without the added superbe) in his poem Nevermore, published in 1866.

Although this is not quite the proper form, I’ve also heard this expression used as, “Le ver est dans la pomme”, the worm is in the apple. It is then quite close to the English expression “the worm in the apple” but the meaning is slightly different: the English phrase — as I understand it, at least — refers to the fact that something dodgy or evil lurks beneath a seemingly innocuous surface, and is silently carrying out its work of destruction. It is also the title of a short story by John Cheever, of whom I’ve never read a word but would very much like to.

  • I really enjoy that “avoir beau” was part of the example sentence. We spent about a week in travaux pratiques on that concept, and my fellow american students and I were convinced that we would never hear it. Cependant, now that I know it, I see it much more frequently than I ever estimated.

  • Your idioms are a wonderful addition to your blog, as are the audio files. The only fly in the ointment (okay that’s not food) is that aspirant francophones (myself) may become discouraged. You parisiennes speak fast!

  • Sounds like a much more elegant way of saying, “What’s done is done.” I wonder if, in French, it has the same connotation of moving on, like: You’ve screwed up, but what’s done is done, so move on. Does this interpretation also apply to “le ver est dans le fruit?” Like, “le ver est dans le fruit, alors, allons-y et recommence…” ??

  • A similar meaning to the French worm in the apple is William Blake’s poem the Sick Rose…

    O rose thou art sick,
    The invisible worm
    That flies in the night,
    In the howling storm,

    Has found out thy bed
    Of crimson joy;
    And his dark secret love
    Does thy life destroy.

  • Jillian – Happy to provide a live example of that construction ! As you yourself noticed, it is actually quite common, and it’s good to have studied it first, because it doesn’t make much sense literally — “they have beautiful try to fight corruption”? :)

    Bureau Chief – Sorry if it seems fast — my intent is certainly not to discourage anyone. To tell you the truth, I actually try to speak a bit more slowly here! :) Perhaps I should record two speeds: one slow, one “normal”?

    Cheryl – Good question. The way I understand it, this expression doesn’t imply a notion of dusting yourself off and carrying on. It’s only a fatalistic look at a situation you deplore, but can’t do anything about.

    Griffin – Thanks for the poem! There’s an exhibition of William Blake’s drawings, engravings and watercolors at the Petit Palais until the end of the month. I’m going to try to go see it!

  • Will you ever publish a book of all your edible idioms w/ accompanying beautiful photos? I hope so!

    During the interim, I will continue to cut and paste the idioms into a file on my computer.

    Thank you for these idioms. They make my French language learning so much more interesting and fun!

  • it doesn’t work for me, could you please give me another links for the audio, i really wanna try it after such comments.

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