La fin des haricots

Pink coco beans

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, “La fin des haricots.”

Literally translated as, “the end of the beans,” it means that the situation is disastrous, that it’s all over, and that all hope is gone.

Sounds depressing? Wait! It is in fact a colloquial expression that is most often used humorously, with a measure of irony. It may refer to 1) a situation that really is serious, but of which the speaker is trying to make light, 2) a situation that seems terrible in the heat of the moment, but isn’t that significant in the grand scheme of things, or 3) a trivial situation, the importance of which the speaker wants to exaggerate for comic effect.

Example: “Si on perd ce client, c’est la fin des haricots !” “If we lose this client, it’s the end of the beans!” (This exemplifies usage 1 or 2, depending on how much you depend on the client.)

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:


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

This expression is fairly recent — it appeared in the early twentieth century — and it refers to the idea of beans as a cheap, filling, and plentiful food that was dried and put aside for times of scarcity, but held in low regard from a gustatory point of view. Consequently, when all your food supplies had been used up, and you were eating the last of even the beans, it meant that you were in a precarious position indeed.

Pictured above are fresh haricots coco roses, or pink coco beans, known in English as borlotti or cranberry beans, as spotted at the Gerardmer greenmarket a few summers ago.

  • http://www.lilyuburns.com Lily

    Bonjour – j’adore que tu mets les edible idioms ici! Je peux practiquer mon francais tandis que je travaille…Merci de toutes que tu fais – les recettes, les photos, etc.!

    -Lily

  • http://nom-nomnom.blogspot.com Reuben Morningchilde

    Lovely, once again, and thanks for running this series!

    Now I’ll hear Nana Mouskouri in my head for the rest of the day, going: ‘Maman, regarde, dans mes oreilles, j’ai des haricots…’

  • winnie

    Ah, this one, once seen made sense right away! I also wonder if the lack of appeal of beans is their aftereffects . . .

  • Edith

    Is it ever used like “il n’est pas la fin des haricots.” to say “it’s not the end of the world” in a way?

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Edith – Good question! The correct construction would in fact be, “ce n’est pas la fin des haricots”, but this idiom isn’t used in the negative form. To say that it’s not the end of the world, we simply say, “ce n’est pas la fin du monde.” (Isn’t French easy? :)

  • Jacqueline

    Another meaning of La fin des haricots is more humorous yet…it is used to refer to menopause !

  • http://mortadifame.blogspot.com Morta Di Fame

    I really cannot wait for more cultural food phrases! So hilarious. Italians also have so many food phrases that refer to real life situations!

  • http://www.pleasurenotes.com emma

    Those are the prettiest haricots (in the photo) I’ve ever seen! I love these idioms. So clever. But they make me hungry every time.

  • Liz

    Pronunciation question: I was taught (many years ago) to drag the “s” from the end of a word over to a word that started with a vowel sound (des-haricots), but the woman in the audio file separates the two. Admittedly, my French teacher may have been short a bean or two herself, but can you let me know if this is a special case or a regional thing, perhaps?

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Liz – Your teacher was absolutely right, but this rule (like most French rules!) has exceptions: some words begin with what is called un “h” aspiré (an aspirated h) which acts like a consonant (even though it is silent) and precludes any liaison (the “dragging” you refer to). Haricot is one of those words.

    There is, unfortunately, no way of knowing whether an “h” is mute or aspirated (though some say Germanic words have aspirated h’s, whereas Greek and Latin words have mute h’s) but some dictionaries indicate it with an asterisk, and there is a list here.

    Hope that helps!

  • Aiyana

    *laughs* given the picture, I envisioned an entirely different meaning to the “end of the beans” until you explained it– I assumed it meant the actual ends of the bean pods, the part that gets snipped off before you cook them! Silly me.

  • http://www.starrybluesky.wordpress.com Rhiannon

    Goodness , another idiom I hadn’t heard of before. I’ve lived a very sheltered French life ! :)
    I love that you include the audio files :)

  • Alix

    The nearest English equivalent I can think of is “There goes the ball game!”

  • http://www.bravepotato.com erica

    I love this series, but this one’s the best! Not only am I going to start saying it in English, but it has officially supplanted my previous, and long-standing, favorite French expression, il pleut comme vache qui pisse. (It’s raining like a pissing cow.) To be fair, I learned that one when I was like, 16, so I could probably stand to grow up a little anyways.

  • http://www.foodcreate.com Allen

    I took French in high school but I did not apply myself. This series has brought back many memories. My French teacher was a cheese fanatic and we would get him off the lesson plan by asking questions about French wine and cheese. Thank you for your great work!

  • http://www.wordsthatsing.wordpress.com Lirone

    Came across a great expression the other day:

    Lors de la rituelle “montee des marches” du festival de Cannes, le gratin du cinema mondial y defile en tenue de gala.

    I now see all the stars processing up the stairs with their elegantly coiffed heads looking lightly singed…

  • Mary

    I love these. Although I do not speak French-I understand the importance of idioms. I am an ESL teacher and my students (children as well as adults) love idioms and I make them part of our daily routine. Idioms are what colors any language and if you know the idioms you really understand that language! Thanks for sharing the color of French… you make understanding French idioms “a piece of cake”.

  • http://www.pinkofperfection.com Sarah

    I’m going to start saying this in English — such a cute expression!

  • Kiki

    Just adding my voice to all the others, telling you how much I enjoy these lessons. It seems there is a never-ending supply of French food-related idioms. Do we have as many in English, do you think? (I might have to look into that….)

  • http://moretimeatthetable.blogspot.com Alyce Morgan

    The really sad thing is when there truly aren’t any more lovely, slim green beans….

  • http://www.bodaweightloss.com/blog jen

    What a wonderful idiom and picture to go with it. Thanks for the great information, I will have to use it in the future.

    jen

  • Therese

    In Louisiana, we use another haricots expression: les haricots ne sont pas salés. The meaning is that times are so bad, that one cannot even afford spices or pork to add to the beans for flavor; instead, one makes do with beans and rice (or bread) alone.

Get the newsletter

Receive a free monthly email with a digest of recent entries, plus exclusive inspiration and special announcements. You can also choose to be notified of every new post.