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La fin des haricots

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La fin des haricots

Literally translated as the end of the beans, la fin des haricots usually comes with a sigh and a desperate look on the speaker's face.   It means that the situation is disastrous, it's the last straw, the end of the world, game over.  You'll most often hear c'est la fin des haricots! - it's the end of the beans!

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.

A common French synonym would be c'est la catastrophe - it's a catastrophe - often shortened to "c'est la cata," for a greater note of humour.

Origin

C'est la fin des haricots is a recent expression; it appeared in the early 20th century.  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, you were in a precarious position indeed.

Interestingly, the end of the beans took over for another expression used to describe hopeless situations in previous centuries: les carottes sont cuites - the carrots are cooked.  Why carrots?  Presumably for the same reason as beans: they were poor people's foods.  Rich people only used carrots as a side dish for meat.  If you couldn't afford to have meat, all you were left with was carrots.  The carrot expression was famously used in 1944 by the free French army who took refuge in London. The army broadcast coded messages on the BBC to mainland France, and used les carrottes sont cuites to announce the imminence of D-day.  It meant that time had run out and the operation was due to commence. Ever since, the meaning of the carrot expression has changed slightly.  While still describing a disastrous situation, the emphasis is now more on it's over, too late, no taking back, no rewinding.   And the end of the beans have replaced the cooked carrots to describe a (relative) disaster.

Two vegetables, two different destinies.

Examples

Il ne reste plus que de la moutarde dans le frigo. C’est la fin des haricots! Il va vraiment falloir aller faire des courses.
There’s only Dijon left in the fridge. Ouch! We really need to go to the store.

Si je n'arrive pas à temps, c'est la fin des haricots.
If I don't make it on time, it's going to be a disaster.

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