A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

Recent entries:
“Running is like coffee, I’m much nicer after I’ve had one” (4/28)
“My neighbors listen to good music, whether they like it or not” (4/28)
“Why do Mexicans never cross the border in groups of three?"/"Because a sign says ‘No Trespassing.‘“ (4/28)
“What kind of magic does a vegan wizard use?"/"Soycery.” (4/28)
“Running is like coffee, I’m much nicer after I’ve had one” (4/27)
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Entry from March 18, 2009
Lemon ("Hand someone a lemon,” “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade")

Entry in progress—B.P.

Wikipedia: Lemon law
Lemon laws are American state laws that provide a remedy for purchasers of cars that repeatedly fail to meet standards of quality and performance. These cars are called lemons. The federal lemon law (the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act) protects citizens of all states. State lemon laws vary by state and may not necessarily cover used or leased cars. The rights afforded to consumers by lemon laws may exceed the warranties expressed in purchase contracts. Lemon law is the common nickname for these laws, but each state has different names for the laws and acts.

In California, lemon laws cover anything mechanical, as do the federal lemon laws. The federal lemon law also provides that the warranter may be obligated to pay your attorney fees if you prevail in a lemon law suit, as do most state lemon laws.

Why is it called a “lemon” law?
In the 1800s, people started using the word ‘lemon’ to describe people who were sour (or unfriendly). In American English the word was first recorded in 1909 in the slang sense of “worthless thing”. Over time, ‘lemon’ came to refer to anything that was defective or broken or which breaks constantly, particularly a car.

(Historical Dictionary of American Slang)
lemon n. a person who is disappointing, foolish, untrustworthy, inexpt, or the like.

a disaappointment; (hence) anything considered so worthless, unworkable, fraudulent, defective, etc.; (esp.) a deective automobile; an unrpofitable prospect.—in early use, usu. in phr. hand (someone)a lemon to cheat (someone).—occ. used attrib. Now S.E.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
lemon, n.
slang (orig. U.S.). Something which is bad or undesirable or which fails to meet one’s expectations.
Phr. the answer is a lemon: used to denote that a reply is unsatisfactory or non-existent.
1909 Sat. Even. Post 20 Feb. 38/2 The wheel goes around; wherever the little indicator at the point of the pin stops, there is your prizeor your lemon. 1912 C. MATHEWSON Pitching in a Pinch x. 220 The papers were mentioning him as the ‘$11,000 lemon’. 1914 ‘HIGH JINKS, JR.’ Choice Slang 14 Lemon, a disappointment. 1922 M. ARLEN Piracy I. v. 59 ‘What would happen if we went on strike?’.. No one among them..dreamed of answering. The answer was a lemon. 1927 Daily Express 13 Dec. 17/1 Middlesbrough seem to have ‘picked a lemon’, for the draw gives them South Shields as opponents. 1930 P. MACDONALD Link iv. 75 The answer at first seems to be a lemon, but they’re at least the sort of questions that make one think. 1931 Morning Post 19 June 6 ‘I sold five lemons for £210,’ said a witness… ‘Lemon’ was a term used in the trade for second-hand cars of little value. 1959 M. T. WILLIAMS Art of Jazz (1960) ix. 85 This great record would have been a lemon commercially in 1925. 1961 C. MABEE Seaway Story vii. 70 He first politely wished success to New York’s lemon, the new twelve-foot Erie Barge Canal. 1963 Guardian 21 Jan. 16/6 The French nuclear deterrent..is a military lemon of the first order. 1969 N. FREELING Tsing-Boum x. 68 One makes requests through official channels and the answer is a lemon. 1972 Sat. Rev. (U.S.) 17 June 7/3 Mechanics are less than delighted to see lines of lemons converging on their service department. 1972 Sydney Morning Herald 26 Aug. 1/2 The effect of this on consumers is too many lemons or part lemons coupled with near impossibility of obtaining redress from the manufacturer.

d. Phr. to hand (someone) a lemon: to pass off a sub-standard article as good; to swindle (a person), to do (someone) down.
1906 H. GREEN At Actors’ Boarding House 36 Him gettin’ handed a lemon in that English act, puts us up. [1922 WODEHOUSE Clicking of Cuthbert x. 233 ‘It did indeed begin to appear as though our beloved monarch..had been handed the bitter fruit of the citron.’ The quaint old idiom is almost untranslateable, but one sees what he means.] 1939 E. S. GARDNER D.A. draws Circle (1940) vi. 87 The way things are now, I co-operate with them. If they hand me a lemon, I can walk up and down the streets cussing them out for letting politics interfere with the administration of justice. 1970 New Yorker 12 Dec. 131/1 These senators felt that the President had handed them two lemons, had gone to the mat for his choices when he didn’t have to.

Chronicling America
25 May 1906, The Evening World (New York, NY), “Our Dream Department” by Roy L. McCardell, pg. 19, col. 7:
Lemon—Beware of the Yellow Peril. Don’t let anyone hand you a lemon.

12 August 1906, Washington (DC) Post, magazine, pg. 2, col. 4:
“LEMON SQUEEZERS” THRIVE
ON “EASY” SONG WRITERS
PUBLISHERS of popular music have recently discovered that they are up against a new kind of trouble. Following on the heels of the former pawnbrokers, corset salesmen, bartenders, and cigar dealers who have started in the business in competition with the old established firms have come a class of publishers who are known in the slang of Tin Pan alley as lemon squeezers.

The business of these people is that of publishing songs for amateurs at the writers’ expense. If a person has an ambition to be famous as a song writer and hasn’t the ability to grind out a lyric or score, the lemon squeezers will help him out. They have always a supply of songs on hand, which for a consideration they will publish as the work of any one willing to pay the price.

These lemon squeezers seek their victims mostly in the Mississippi Valley and the far West. They have flooded the far West with circulars describing the fortunes made by writers of successful songs.

Chronicling America
26 September 1906, Washington (DC) Times, pg. 6, col. 4:
“Now, I’m not handing you a lemon; that’s the straight truth.”

19 January 1907, Montgomery (AL) Advertiser, “Driftwood” by Phil H. Armstrong, pg. 4, col. 6:
When somebody hands you a lemon, squeeze it.

Chronicling America
24 July 1907, Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, UT), “If anyone hands you a lemon, smile—they’re 40 cents a dozen,” pg. 8, col. 2:
Has anyone handed you a lemon?

25 April 1908, Reno (NV) Evening Gazette, pg. 4, col. 2:
THE REAL OPTIMIST.
An optimist is a man who can make lemonade out of all lemons handed to him.—Biddleford Journal.

31 August 1908, Belleville (IL) News-Democrat, “Pointed Paragraphs,” pg. 4, col. 4:
Don’t hand your friends a lemon, treat them to lemonade.

6 March 1918, Columbus (GA) Daily Enquirer, pg. 7:
NOT MUCH.
“Be an optimist.”
“Huh.”
“If they hand you a lemon make lemonade.”
“What can you do with sour grapes?”—Ex.

15 May 2000, Placerville (CA) Mountain Democrat, The Funnies, “Shoe” by Jeff MacNelly, pg. B7:
Panel One:
IF LIFE HANDS YOU LEMONS, MAKE LEMONADE.
Panel Two:
AND IF LIFE HANDS YOU TOMATOES…
Panel Three:
MAKE A BLOODY MARY.

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If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.
And if life hands you tomatoes, make a Bloody Mary. 

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Wednesday, March 18, 2009 • Permalink