Retomber comme un soufflé


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, “Retomber comme un soufflé.”

Literally translated as, “Falling back like a soufflé,” it is a colloquial expression that means running out of steam in a quick and sudden way: after an initial phase of enthusiasm, an idea, an initiative, or a phenomenon (but not a person) loses momentum, as the interest for it wanes.

Example: “Il y a eu tout un battage médiatique autour du projet, et puis c’est retombé comme un soufflé.” “There was a lot of media hype around the project, and then it fell back like a soufflé.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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

As any cook who has ever attempted to make (or even just considered making) a soufflé knows, the egg white-raised preparation is indeed quick to deflate, and it is this structural flaw that the expression refers to: while the fresh-out-of-the-oven, puffy soufflé garners admirative gasps from the crowds, its sunken version may fail to sustain their interest.

Note that this expression is frequently misspelled as, “retomber comme un soufflet.” Depending on the speaker’s accent, soufflet can sound very much like soufflé, but it means bellows.

  • Much nicer imagery than “I ran out of gas”. I may have to use this one.

  • Mary

    I love these idioms (and appreciate the reminder tweets). Also interesting to learn French for “media hype.” Merci, Clotilde.

  • Jeff Reid

    Who takes your beautiful photos?

  • Alix

    Oh dear Lord, ‘souffle’ and ‘soufflet’ aren’t homonyms??? Arrgh, I’ll never learn French!!

  • Ruth Adams

    Erin, if you don’t like the “ran out of gas” idiom, another English one is “losing the wind in your sails” or something close to that.

  • Mrs Redboots

    The author Nancy Mitford (who was, of course, a terrific Francophile and lived for many years in the rue Monsieur) used the expression: “like a cold spoon in the soufflé”, which seems similar.

  • I seem to ‘fall back like a soufflé’ quite often, so thanks for this great imagery !

    I’ve always related ‘running out of steam’ to America’s passion for progress–locomotive trains. I’m switching to ‘falling back like a soufflé–a reminder of the French passion for food.

  • All – Glad you like that one, too!

    Jeff – I do. Thank you! :)

    Alix – The difference is subtle, but the sound “-é” is a little more acute than the sound “-et”. But some French people (I think it’s a mildly regional thing) pronounce them both the same way, so you can absolutely get away with it!

    Erin, Ruth, and Gwendolyn – Note that the French expression is only used to talk about a thing, such as a project or a trend, never a person. That’s not to say you can’t use it in English however you please (that’s the beauty of borrowing foreign idioms!) but it would sound a bit strange in French.

  • Sam

    How beautiful!!
    I love how you say the name, Clotilde!

  • VERY good to know! Thanks, Clotilde, for clarifying. Although my husband would sometimes agree that I am quite a project as people go ~ a work in progress. I’m not too trendy, though, so I suppose I will save this idiom for things . . .

  • Theresa

    I wonder what would be the equivalent of this expression for a person? Preferably food-related, of course! :)

  • At least in American English, we sometimes say “to collapse like a souffle.”

  • Interesting – and nice to learn the correct phrase for “media hype ” too :)

  • hbw

    Hm, see if I can work it into a conversation today.

    Clothilde, though I have every intention of keeping a close eye on C&Z, please can you tell me of any events you are running over the next few months as I am currently hyperventilating with excitement for being transferred to Paris with work!

    Take care


  • Very interesting, thanks for sharing! :)

  • Joyeux anniversaire, Clotilde ! Merci pour la douceur que vous partagez avec nous.

  • ha! I love this. Even mundane words in French sounds beautiful. I just sat here and tried to repeat the phrase over and over to memorize it, though my accent is totally awful.

  • I like this one – and I can relate to it well!

  • Ruth

    Wow, I absolutely love the idioms! I just started French school here in France last month, and I will take any fun, random language tidbits I can get. Thanks especially for the recordings.

  • Another example of how much prettier the French language is!

  • bangprem

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