When did the expression "Poor man's [noun]" originate? Where does it come from, and who is considered responsible for coining it?

4 Answers 4


The Online Etymology Dictionary says that "poor man's something" is from 1854.


There is no deep mystery here—nor, I think, any especial history to be uncovered, either. A poor man’s substitute is no more mysterious in meaning or origin than is a rich man’s game, a fat man’s curse, or a short man’s bane.

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    I only ask out of curiosity, but the origin in place and time of this particular expression may for instance indicate when and where poverty became primarily synonymous with subpar quality, as opposed to virtue in the christian tradition. All expressions could be given a deeper meaning, so I disagree. Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 2:52
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    I agree with @tchrist. I suspect what happened was not the best over time morphed into among the worst: Two vendors A and B do the same job, but A does it significantly better; B reduces his price to compete. B is then the "poor man's" version of A. As more vendors (say, C and D) came, the worst one would lower his prices most. I opine the same process stigmatized cheap. (Google changed "cheap hotel" search to "budget hotel.") But you're right. It needn't always mean sub-par: Take "poor man's copyright," a legal process where one uses postal timestamps to demonstrate possession.
    – user39720
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 6:42

It was initially meant to reference any item in Poor Richard's Almanack. The publication appeared continually from 1732 to 1758.

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    Would you mind sharing a reference for that?
    – teylyn
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 9:00

In the Bible (Deut 16:3), Matzah (unleavened bread) is referred to as לחם עני, the bread of affliction as in the bread consumed by the Hebrew slaves in ancient Egypt. The word עני when vowelized as Oni means affliction but when vowelized as Ani means poverty. Hence לחם עני is also referred to as Poor man's bread. The idea that a poor man (afflicted by poverty) is forced to make do with an ersatz or poor substitute.

  • A problems here would be that (i) although the Bible gave rise to many phrases and sayings, the Bible has been around for a while, yet it appears that "a poor man's [insert noun]" is not that old. (ii) Neither the English Bible nor the Latin Bible mention "poor" in the verse. It would be helpful if you could make the link between the Hebrew and the English.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 17:22

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