Buy a lemon

Buy a lemon is used as an idiom. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom buy a lemon, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

To buy a lemon means to purchase something that is worthless, broken, unsatisfactory, not of its purported value, or disappointing. Often, the word lemon is applied to a new car or other mechanical device that never works properly. However, anything that doesn’t live up to its reputation or does not meet expectations can be considered a lemon. In many countries, lemon laws protect consumers who buy a lemon or purchase a new vehicle that turns out to work improperly, because it is reasonable to expect a new item work. The idiom buy a lemon seems to have originated in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. Why lemon?A lemon is a small, oval, yellow citrus fruit that is tart. Many theories point to the lemon’s tartness and the ease with which one may squeeze the juice out of it.


No one wants to buy a lemon that breaks down for good after less than 50,000 miles. (USA Today)

But all hard drives die, and it’s still possible to buy a lemon that will die too soon. (New York Times)

Maybe a previous purchase went horribly wrong — we bought a car that turned out to be a lemon, for example, and couldn’t afford to replace it.  (Tampa Bay Times)

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