Maybe the example would help to describe the expression I am looking for:

Say - a sub-par school or organization makes a promotional video, whereby they make the school look way better than it really is. They accomplished this by interviewing a few successful students, showing only the best parts of the school/classes, picking a few angles, and omitting 80% of what really represents the true situation.

I have heard the following expression, but not sure whether it's appropriate, or even phrased correctly:

Turn chicken into a chicken soup.

EDIT: actually the expression was

Make chicken salad out of chicken $#!%"

coined by Brock Lesnar. Obviously it's less befitting than others mentioned on the thread.

14 Answers 14


The one I like best is polishing a turd.

  • 1
    +1 for "real" slang that we probably won't be hearing from politicians at the hustings anytime soon. Sep 2, 2011 at 22:35
  • 2
    Also You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, though that focusses more on the futility of the action, rather than misleading presentation. And mutton dressed as lamb is normally only applied to older women wearing clothes more suited to younger ones. But at least you can say them in polite society. Sep 3, 2011 at 12:34

I would consider cherry pick and golden sample; both involve the selection of a nonrepresentative group to give the best impression.

Not precisely an idiom, but an expression that may be easy to overlook is false advertising.

Also related: spin and its derivative terms. These usually have negative connotations; compare put a spin on, spin doctors, etc.


One common long-standing expression that comes to mind is window dressing, but there must be hundreds of well-known dismissive put-downs for "promotional exaggeration".

As a Brit, I'd just settle for the understated selective reporting in OP's example.


Try putting lipstick on a pig.

The school could also be said to be indulging in smoke and mirrors.


One common idiom is "make a mountain out of a molehill", however the underlying implication of that is "make a problem bigger than it really is", which is kind of the opposite of what you are looking for.

Another common idiom is "putting lipstick on a pig", which means make something that is really bad seem to look a lot better. That might be a good fit for you.

As to the chicken soup one -- I've never heard that expression, Google hasn't either.

  • 2
    You should probably put the molehill one after the lipstick one, or take it out altogether, then.
    – Daniel
    Sep 2, 2011 at 22:04
  • To put lipstick on a pig is very much an Americanism that's only shot to prominence in the last couple of decades. As a Brit, perhaps I shouldn't comment, but I think it's almost exclusively used by Texans and politicians. Sep 2, 2011 at 22:15
  • I don't think it is exclusive to either Texans or politicians, although recent political events brought it to the fore. I have heard it a lot in all sorts of contexts. I'll grant you though that I don't remember hearing it much in the UK. Interestingly, the person I remember using it most was a Belorussian I used to work with. Which doesn't prove anything of course, but is nonetheless a "strange but true."
    – Fraser Orr
    Sep 2, 2011 at 22:19
  • Well, I did say that as a Brit I probably really shouldn't comment. We only hear it from US politicians & pundits on the news. So I doubt it'll ever "hit the streets" on this side of the pond, because those are the last kind of people users of new slang expressions would want to emulate. Sep 3, 2011 at 12:21

In the song Things Are Seldom What They Seem in the operetta HMS Pinafore, there are the lines:

Gild the farthing if you will
Yet it is a farthing still.

I had always assumed this referred to a standing expression, but just now I wasn't able to find any other references to gilding the farthing, other than ones explicitly referencing that song. There does appear to have been a 1963 book by Brian Almond called Gild the Brass Farthing.

  • Welcome aboard the site. An upvote to get you started.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 3, 2011 at 18:19
  • +1; more commonly "gild the lily"
    – David Cary
    Sep 12, 2011 at 14:35

An historical reference or metaphor would be a Potemkin village. These were false village façades (think Western movie sets) that were, according to legend, set up by Grigory Potemkin to impress the Empress Catherine. Generally viewed as fable, you’ll still hear the reference occasionally.


The term I would use is puffery; that is, puffing up the best features of the school and pointedly ignoring the worse ones.


Perhaps employment of or resorting to:

  • selective memory
  • selective history
  • selective representation

For example:

Putting its best feet forward, the alumni testimonials in behalf of No’Rs Nurturing Academy were seen by regulators as partly true, largly selective representation.


It occurs to me that a less colloquial term would be self-aggrandizement. The OED just has it as “the action or process of promoting oneself as being powerful or important”, but thefreedictionary.com supports my feeling that there is a connotation of exaggeration:

the act or practice of enhancing or exaggerating one’s own importance, power, or reputation.

(Sorry I didn’t put that in my earlier post; it’s been on the tip of my tongue for three days.)


There is also this saying which doesn't fit exactly your criteria but it illustrates perfectly the concept that not everything you see can be trusted.

All that glitters is not gold



Gilding the lily is another option.


make a silk purse (out) of a sow's ear

(idiomatic) To produce something refined, admirable, or valuable from something which is unrefined, unpleasant, or of little or no value.



In certain contexts I would just call it false advertising, but I came across a compound that to me sounds more like an expression:


Here are the definitions of vainglory, together with an example of how it is used, given by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

1 : excessive or ostentatious pride especially in one's achievements

2 : vain display or show : vanity

Example: "...the vainglory that nations have historically shown after they have achieved military supremacy..."

  • 1
    A suggestion is not an answer. An answer which consists of virtually nothing but a citation is not useful and may be subject to deletion even if it is correct. Excessive pride is not what OP is looking for. OP is looking for an expression that means overselling something.
    – MetaEd
    Jul 19, 2016 at 16:05
  • I added block-quote formatting to your answer to indicate the language that came from another source, and I added a linked citation of that source. In future answers that include quotations from other sources, please try to include these elements. Thanks!
    – Sven Yargs
    Jul 19, 2016 at 18:28

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