Buy a Lemon (Origin)

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Buy a Lemon"?

The term "buy a lemon" means to purchase something that is broken or worth far less than expected. The word "lemon" most commonly refers to a vehicle that gives constant problems or stops running after you drive it off the forecourt.

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Buy a Lemon (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • He thought he got a great deal on the used car, but it turned out to be a lemon – a faulty and unreliable vehicle.
  • They were disappointed when the expensive gadget they purchased turned out to be a lemon that constantly malfunctioned.
  • She regretted buying the cheap electronic device; it was a lemon that broke down within a week.
  • They warned him about the shady seller, but he still decided to buy the product and ended up with a lemon.
  • After multiple repairs and breakdowns, they finally realized they had bought a lemon and decided to cut their losses.
The origin of the idiom "to buy a lemon" remains unconfirmed, but it most likely refers to the bitterness of a lemon. If you'd never seen one before, a lemon would look like a sweet fruit. However, one bite of a lemon quickly highlights its bitterness, telling you the truth about its taste. This is a metaphor for buying a car with mechanical issues. Judging by its appearance, a faulty car might seem sound, but, when tested, the truth is revealed.

Similar Theory

This theory is a related to the bitterness of a lemon. It asserts that the face people pull when they bite a lemon is the same as the face they pull when they realize they have been swindled by purchasing a dud.

Competing Theory

In the US, the word "lemon" has long been a slang word for a simpleton or a loser. Similarly, a car described as a "lemon" is also a loser, i.e., faulty and worthless.

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.