Of Lemons and Lemmings

“I believe when life gives you lemons, you should…try to find someone whose life has given them vodka…”  

― Ron White

“Not a moment passes these days without fresh rushes of… lemmings off the cliffs …” 

― Harold Bloom

Have you ever thought about how we use fruit in our slang language to describe things? “It’s as American as apple pie”. A crazy person is a “fruitcake”. Or a “lemon” as a person or thing that proves to be defective, imperfect, or unsatisfactory. 

Let’s consider the word “lemon”. It comes to us from the Old French “limon”, a generic term for citrus fruit in general. The use of “lemon” to mean “disappointing result” or “something unwanted” is very old, reflecting a lump of sourness. By the mid-19th century, “lemon” was used for a “loser,” a dim person, and by 1909, “lemon” in American slang became a term for “something worthless,” fobbed off on an unsuspecting customer. It’s likely that the current use of “lemon” to mean “a disappointing purchase” comes from a combination of “lemon” in the “sucker” sense (i.e., the buyer got “taken”) and the much older sense of “lemon” meaning “something undesirable”.

One could apply the use of “lemon” to someone in Washington today – definately disappointing and undesirable and unsatisfactory, imperfect for the job, acerbic in temper and expression, fobbed off as a “leader”.

And let’s consider “lemmings”. The “Lemming Suicide Plunge” – where lemmings, apparently overcome by deep-rooted impulses, deliberately run over a cliff in their millions. It’s a myth, but it serves an apt purpose as a metaphor for the behaviour of people who foolishly follow a leader, lemming-like, regardless of the consequences. 

And I find the lemmings more worrisome than the lemon leading them. Whenever a mob gets moving, it’s all to easy for the innocent to get caught up in the rush and crushed.

Maybe Ron White, one of my favorite comedians, has a point – we’ve been given a lemon, and the only way to make it palatable is with as much vodka as needed until the lemon and the lemmings are gone. Hopefully in only four years.

I don’t think my liver could last longer than that.


– Bill


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