Tomber dans les pommes


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, “Tomber dans les pommes.”

Literally translated as, “falling in the apples,” it is a colloquial expression that means passing out, fainting, losing consciousness.

Example: “Le métro était tellement bondé que la fille à côté de moi est tombée dans les pommes.” “The metro was so crowded that the girl next to me fell in the apples.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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

There is no definitive explanation of how this idiom was formed, just tentative ones. The first is that it may be a distorted version of tomber dans les pâmes, related to se pâmer, an old-fashioned word for swooning/fainting. Another theory is that it is derived from an expression used by George Sand in a 1830 letter to her mother. Explaining that she was barely recovering from an illness and still exhausted, she described her state as “being in cooked apples.” “Je suis un peu dans les pommes cuites,” she wrote.

I find the latter explanation somewhat far-fetched, considering it involves a shift in both form and meaning, but then I always imagined tomber dans les pommes meant that if you fainted near a pile of apples, you’d fall right into them, so who am I to talk.

Photo note: The picture above was shot at a pick-your-own apple orchard in Alsace.

  • I have to say, that’s one of the most interesting ones yet! I love reading these because I learn something new each time. :)

  • Are you repeating the written phrase word for word in the audio? You seem to be saying something other than ‘la fille à côté’, but I can’t make out what.

    This is one of my favourite phrases too, as soon after I learnt it my neighbour used it to describe her reaction to something she is allergic to. I was thrilled to be able to understand her meaning.

  • dee

    The first thing I thought was apples = cider. Cider can be hard cider which makes people fall if drank enough.

  • this is an expression i’ve used thousands of times, especially as: j’ai failli tomber dans les pommes. i always wondered where it came from. like you i found: ” tomber en pâmoison”. as a child i always imagined apple pickers fainting into their piles of apples…
    (“c’est pour ma pomme” is another good one.)

  • Susan – Yes, I am pronouncing the sentence word for word, but it’s not just “la fille à côté,” it’s “la fille à côté de moi.”

  • Mrs Redboots

    I first came across this expression as a child of 15 or so reading Astérix for the first time on a French exchange visit (I’m not sure whether he had yet been translated into English; certainly it was years before I found him in England). Luckily the pictures told the story…. and made some dreadful puns when they were about it!

  • kim

    Ha, that actually happened to me on the metro in Paris… We don’t have an equivalent of this one in Dutch I think, only ‘falling with your behind in the butter’ but that’s something entirely different :)

  • I can get it up to ‘que’ and from ‘de moi’, it’s just the bit in between that is eluding me. Must be the rapidfire Parisian delivery. :-) Here in the Touraine I’m used to people who speak slowly and clearly :-)) (probably as a kindness to their voisine qui parle le français comme une vache espagnole).

  • This was a new one for me!

  • Aiyana

    what a lovely picture of apples, too!

  • I just discovered your blog, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I am new to the blogosphere, and a bit overwhelmed by all that is out there. Your blog is like a respite from the craziness. And I LOVE the french lessons ;)

  • Beautiful photo Clotilde! cute phrase…hehe

  • This is probably my favorite from this feature so far. Falling in the apples. I wondered if it had anything to do with the presence of amazing French spirits made from apple.

  • Jantien

    That’s so funny – there is an oldfashioned expression in Dutch: “appelflauwte”. This literally translates as an “applefaint”. The expression is mainly associated with 19th-century upper class ladies, who would faint with just a little bit excitement, as in: “When the butler told her that somebody stole her jewels, she had an applefaint”…

    Weird, I have no idea where it comes from (corset times?). It’s probably related to the French expression though.

  • Kim – What does “falling with your behind in the butter” mean in Dutch? It sounds like a good one! :)

    Susan – The way I pronounce “que la fille à côté de moi” sounds somewhat like “qu’la fii à côté d’moi”: when pronounced quickly (and with a Parisian accent), fille becomes just one slightly trailing syllable. Does that help?

    Jantien – Fascinating, thanks for sharing that!

  • Merci bien. Yes that helps :-)

  • Rachel

    I particularly appreciated this when reading Asterix chez les Belges yesterday… ;)

  • msl

    Could the phrase come from the process of making hard apple cider? Fermentation of fruit throws off a lot of carbon dioxide, which is released into the air when grapes or apples are fermented in in open vats. There’s a danger of breathing in too much CO2 when making cider or wine if one is leaning over the vat to stir it, etc., which could cause a person to faint (or worse). This is just uninformed speculation, of course…

  • What a gorgeous picture…I want this as my wallpaper!

  • Loving this series…my husband and I crack each other up trying to imitate your elegant pronunciation (we are so hopelessly not French).

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