Monday, May 14, 2012


I’m not referring to the citrus fruit, but rather the use of the term lemon in reference to defective cars or other flawed products. We use the term lemon to denote the sour taste in our mouths after making a distasteful deal.

It is difficult to pinpoint the origin of this term, but I was able to find some information. In the early 1900s, a pool hall hustle was called a lemon game and around the same time in Britain the term ‘to hand someone a lemon’ was slang for "to pass off a sub-standard article as a good one."

Volkswagen Ad
The word lemon for substandard cars gained popularity in the 1950s with one of Volkswagen’s ad campaigns. Volkswagen used the term lemon to denote any car that did not pass their thorough inspections. This campaign was considered a huge success and because of this campaign the use of the term lemon for cars became popular. You can view the ad here.

Canada and the U.S. have lemon laws in place to protect consumers who purchase defective cars. Click here to learn more about lemon laws. Although, if you want to buy a car and you are not sure, I recommend you read this blog to distinguish between cars that are gems and those that are truly lemons.  

Thank you Lauren for suggesting this word.


  1. Great article!! I was looking something about this because I came across with this advertise in a Mad Men chapter series. Regards Juan.