Buy a Lemon (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

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.
Buy a Lemon (Origin)
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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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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