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In association with my question about possibility of using Etch-a-Sketch as a verb, I found the expression “turn a lemon into lemonade” in the related article of Five Star. It says:

Etch-a-Sketch had a dilemma as it faced one of three choices:

  1. Say and do nothing, and wait for the story to go away.
  2. Object to the use of the Etch-a-Sketch brand in such contexts, and publicly reinforce its core brand values.
  3. Seize an opportunity to turn a potential lemon into lemonade.

Happily, the folks at Etch-a-Sketch chose the last option.

As I was interested in the expression “turn a lemon into lemonade,” I googled, and found the following example of usage:

“How to turn lemons into lemonade. Bob Chambers. Most of us are so busy building our business that we often forget some of the simple principles that will turn our business into a powerhouse.”

We have Japanese sayings 災いを転じて福となす or 奇貨とするmeaning “turn disaster into fortunateness.“ But “turn lemons into lemonade” seems to imply to make an ordinary thing into a special or superior thing. Am I right? Is this a popular English phrase?

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It's a variation of the subject of this question – Gnawme Jul 25 '12 at 23:14
@Gnawme. sidebar of maxims you suggested reminds me of the concept of ad man that I was once. The job of ad man (or marketer) was to change commodities into a special brand (poduct). – Yoichi Oishi Jul 26 '12 at 0:18
@Yoichi Oishi: In case you're not aware, a lemon is a common slang term for a poor product (esp. an unreliable car). In general, anything that cost you a lot, but turned out to be useless for its purpose. As a piece of "folk wisdom" though, the expression is about as deep as the sign on an office cubicle wall saying "THINK!". – FumbleFingers Jul 26 '12 at 1:27
@FumbleFinger. Yes. I remember Volkswagen’s famous ad with a single and punchy catch phrase, ‘Lemon’ created by Ogilvy Mather in early 60’s. It’s still vivid in my memory. However, I failed to associate ‘lemon’ as a defective product with ‘turn a lemon into lemonade’ allegory. It sounded gentler than a lemon beetle to me. – Yoichi Oishi Jul 26 '12 at 2:17
@ Yoichi-san- It was DDB, not O&M that did the famous VW campaign. President Kennedy is reputed to have said the Think Small ad in the same series was the 'funniest ad' he'd ever seen. :-) – Autoresponder Jul 27 '12 at 17:23
up vote 18 down vote accepted

This is a rather popular, commonly used phrase (in many different variations).

No matter the exact wording, in general you want to keep in mind two things:

  1. Lemons are sour.
  2. Lemonade is sweet.

To make lemonade out of lemons is to take something that is not so great and turn it into something good.

A very common phrase is as follows: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

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Susie from Calvin and Hobbes will have something to add to this :P – asymptotically Jul 26 '12 at 10:25
As in, few people like to eat lemons, but many people like to drink lemonade. – Jay Jul 26 '12 at 14:50

It means to take a situation that is negative and turn it into a positive. To add sugar, if you will, to a sour situation, event, issue, etc.

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Welcome to ELU. This is correct, but I'm not clear what it adds to or how it differs from narx' answer. Is there perhaps something I'm missing? – StoneyB Jan 5 '13 at 19:38

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