There’s no free lunch

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There’s no free lunch is an American axiom that is well known in economic circles, though its origins seem to be in literature. We will look at the meaning of the admonition there’s no free lunch, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

The phrase there’s no free lunch means you don’t get something for nothing, or anything one receives for free will be paid for in another way. The term comes from a practice in the nineteenth century in the United States, whereby taverns provided a free lunch to drinkers. Obviously, by affording a thrifty lunch of perhaps boiled eggs and peanuts, the bartenders kept paying patrons in their establishments longer, quaffing profitable alcoholic beverages. The term there’s no free lunch was first used in 1942 by Paul Mallon, an American political  journalist. It was made more popular when the author Robert Heinlein used it in his 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and then more popular still when it was used by the economist Milton Friedman as the title of his book, There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Some say that the term there’s no free lunch originated with New Yorker Fiorello La Guardia, elected mayor of New York in 1933, when he said “È finita la cuccagna!” This was in regards to the corruption and graft that he intended to clean up. In reality, this phrase is more correctly translated as “the party’s over!” The term there’s no free lunch is often rendered as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch or the acronyms TANSTAAFL, TINSTAAFL, and TNSTAAFL.


True, there’s no such thing as a free lunch but I still fall for clever and psychologically astute advertising gimmicks by manufacturers and management gurus. (The Hindu)

Anyone who tells you “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” certainly never stepped foot in a Cava Grill on opening day. (Richmond Magazine)