I tried to find the etymology of the cliche "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" on the Internet, but so far I haven't had any luck. It won't even tell me if it's a maxim or not.

  • 2
    Can you have an etymology of a cliche?
    – Benjol
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 9:56
  • You have to look up "origin" or "history" for phrases, idioms and proverbs.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 12:00

4 Answers 4


Dale Carnegie popularized the cliché, but I found it in print five years prior to Carnegie's first publication. This is from a sidebar of maxims in a men's clothing advertising periodical called Men's Wear, 1908/09:

In business turn obstacles into conveniences. When handed a lemon—make lemonade of it.

This reference most likely precludes Carnegie from being the phrase's progenitor as he was selling lard at the time of its publication.

It seems Carnegie did not use the phrase in print until his last of six books, published in 1948, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, in which he has a chapter titled "If You Have a Lemon, Make a Lemonade" that ends with his Rule #6:

When fate hands us a lemon, let's try to make a lemonade.

  • The Men's Wear book actually appears to be from 1910: search for 1910 in the book, and you'll find a New Years greeting from that year. Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 10:59
  • @Peter: Read the first paragraph of that greeting. Commented Apr 26, 2011 at 11:53
  • @hippietrail: My "selling lard" link goes to the same place, but your placement makes more sense. Thanks. Commented May 16, 2011 at 11:57
  • You're welcom Callithumpian - sorry I didn't spot your link. Commented May 16, 2011 at 12:03
  • Carnegie used the meaning of "lemon" as a useless item, and linked it back to its original meaning as a useful fruit. What I don't know is where the "useless item" meaning came from. Hence: english.stackexchange.com/questions/53509/…
    – slim
    Commented Jan 3, 2012 at 16:22

It is widely attributed to Dale Carnegie. There's a wikipedia entry for it. It may be older than him, and he may have merely popularized it. Google "carnegie lemonade" and see what shakes out for you.

  • +1; I was unable to find an actual source, but the original Carnegie quote appears to be "When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade."
    – MrHen
    Commented Apr 25, 2011 at 17:28
  • @MrHen: Right. Normally I would post a link, but none of them seemed authoritative enough to label as a solid cite. Nevertheless, it does appear that the quote is widely attributed to Carnegie. Before looking, I was half expecting Erma Bombeck to be the source.
    – The Raven
    Commented Apr 25, 2011 at 17:34
  • I did find one person thinking it was H.J. Whitley but no other hits for that search at all.
    – MrHen
    Commented Apr 25, 2011 at 17:40
  • Lemonade should be stirred, not shaken.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 31, 2019 at 20:34

Actually, the saying is originally attributed to Elbert Hubbard: "A genius is a man who takes the lemons that Fate hands him and starts a lemonade stand with them." (Reader's Digest, October 1927) ref

However, the saying is usually credited to Dale Carnegie, who published it as: "When fate hands us a lemon let's try to make a lemonade." (Rule #6, at the end of Chapter 17 in Carnegie's "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" published in 1948)

EDIT: Probing a little further, I acquired the October, 1927 "Reader's Digest". As foretold, I discovered Hubbard's "lemon quote", right there on page 343, borrowed from "The Independent".


It was H J Whitley who the phrase was coined about. In the early 1900 he bought 500 acres in the heart of Hollywood. He turned lemon orchards into Hollywood. At a banquet his business partners toasted him saying if life gives you lemons make lemonade.

  • 3
    Welcome to English Language & Usage! Please consider adding references to your answer. For example, cite a dictionary entry, or quote a paragraph where this is used in context.
    – Glorfindel
    Commented Mar 31, 2019 at 20:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.