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[…] mais au train où allaient les choses […]

I couldn't find the different pieces of this as expressions or idioms or anything. I can't seem to parse any meaning out of it.

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Au train où vont les choses, les choses où vont les trains vont bientôt cesser d'être des gares. — Pierre Dac –  Nikana Reklawyks Nov 16 '12 at 3:59
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4 Answers 4

To me, just saying this way doesn't give the temporal meaning of the idiom.

To understand it fully, one must see that this idiom is related to the meaning of the word train which is (in french) synonym of allure, rythme, cadence, vitesse (see III. in the CNRTL definition).

There are many idioms with this very meaning of pace, speed or maybe rate, like aller bon train (= to go quite fast), or aller à un train d'enfer (= to go extremely fast).

Au train où vont les choses, vous aurez terminé plus tôt que prévu !

...could be translated to

If things keep going on this quickly, you'll be more than on time !

But the nature of the pace (fast or slow) is implicitly deducted from the context. It could just also be :

Au train où vont les choses, vous n'y serez jamais à temps !

... meaning ...

If things keep going on this slowly, you'll never be there on time !

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I'm adding one, just to complicate matters… avoir un train d'avance. –  Stéphane Gimenez Jul 2 '12 at 9:19
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It means if things keep going on this way, or according to larousse.com

Au train où vont les choses, si la situation continue d'évoluer de la même façon. (Phrase : train)

And to the TLF

Au train où l'on va; au train/du train où vont les choses; au train où va le monde, la science; à ce train-là. Si l'on continue, si quelque chose continue ainsi. (train III A 3 c)

It may¹ convey a meaning of pace, too. As in if things keep on at this pace, but I think that it is not that important, for instance both could be glosed si ça continue comme ça.

Even if according to someone from my dear LIMSI it should be du train dont vont les choses

Du train dont vont les choses (et non au train où vont les choses, qui ne veut rien dire).


1. Merci, Romain.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

See other answers for more detail, but the quick answer is that the English equivalent is "At this rate...", or "At the rate things are/were going..."

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D'après le Robert, parmi les différents sens et emplois de train, pour ce qui concerne le déroulement d'une action :

Vieilli
train : Manière d'aller, d'évoluer, marche (des choses).

Moderne
Du train vont les choses : si les choses continuent comme cela.
Au train dont va la science (Bergson).

EDIT

  • Du train :
    train correspond à une file d'objets (ou d'animaux) en mouvement qui suivent un pilote ou une motrice.
    On pourrait dire : « à la vitesse à laquelle le train avance et en considérant les éléments qui le constituent ».
  • Au train :
    train est pris dans le sens de rythme, sens Vieilli ci-dessus.
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