What is an expression or idiom for something old that is sold or offered in a deceptive way as something new or innovative? Ideally, the specific instance of the thing is not what is old or new, but the design or concept, though I'd take either. Also, the object may be perfectly effective, just already very well known, possibly already owned.

There exist related common expressions such as:

  • "snakeoil" for something completely ineffective, but deceptively sold as an effective remedy.
  • "silver bullet" for something that is proposed to be a simple total solution to a particular difficult problem. Although usually used in the phrase "there are no silver bullets", I believe just the words "silver bullet" would be understood to identify a false solution even if the speaker did not qualify this with the "there are no".

But I'm looking for something that a charlatan or dishonest sales person is perhaps calling by a different name or repackaging or otherwise claiming is totally new and different. Possibly, but not necessarily, specifically replacing an instance of the thing already in your possession.

"Super Special Sea Salt" is obviously not a established idiom, but kind of illustrates the ideal properties of the target idiom: it actually is what it says it is (mostly), and what you already have in your kitchen is virtually indistinguishable from the proffered supposedly superior variety (if not exactly the same; I believe before it was trendy to buy "sea salt" quite a lot of table salt already was produced from evaporated sea water).

  • 'Used goods' or 'second hand goods' may be sold as though they were new, but I don't know of any further way to describe them. If they are 'sold as seen' then there is no deception. – Nigel J May 31 '18 at 12:35
  • Good point, @NigelJ . This highlights part of the desirable properties of "snakeoil" and "silver bullet". The term itself is what the deceiver would use to refer to the object. The lie is not so much a secret substitution, but instead in the qualities or powers of the object (although I suppose "snake oil" often had no origin from snakes, as suggested by [interesting partial history of snakeoil] (npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/26/215761377/…) ). – Justin Jun 1 '18 at 17:03
  • Interesting. Originally I thought "reinventing the bicycle," but that's more about an inventor's stupidity than a marketer's dishonesty. – Misha R Jun 3 '18 at 3:12

It isn't usually used quite so literally, but there is the old expression mutton dressed as lamb. From Cambridge Dictionaries:

UK informal disapproving
​> a way of describing an older woman who is dressed in a style that is more suitable for a younger woman

As the definition suggests, it's traditionally used to describe a person who acts or wears clothes that are too "young" for his or her age (usually her), but the literal meaning (trying to pass off old, tough meat as fresh, tender meat by changing the presentation) fits your situation perfectly.

  • See one of the answers to this question by Mary-Lou A – Centaurus May 31 '18 at 1:05
  • @Centaurus Thanks—I hadn't seen that. Interestingly, I'm a native AmE speaker (I have been to London for about five days once, though). I think of it as an old-fashioned, British-y phrase, but not incomprehensible. – 1006a May 31 '18 at 1:14
  • This one definitely gets at the idea of one party trying to pass off something as "newer and better" than it really is to gain advantage. I appreciate your attention to the person-versus-object issue particularly in regards to what it customarily refers to (a person). – Justin Jun 1 '18 at 16:23

You could maybe use retread, which originally referred to a process for extending the use of automobile tires, as described here on the Wikipedia, but which often gets applied to people and ideas.

Other possibilities are facelifted, referring to the plastic surgery, or a refurb (short for refurbished), usually applied to equipment where low-lifetime parts can be replaced, making the equipment “good as new”.

Edited to add:

If innovation is part of the seller’s pitch, there’s the contrast between an original and a knockoff. The buyer of a knockoff is partly complicit in the fraud.

  • This is pretty close. However, I've always had the impression that retread tires are not known for being described as new during a sale, but I don't really know that. – Justin Jun 1 '18 at 16:03

Where I used to work, these were called siffers. There's a story behind it. An important component in an ICBM's guidance system is the PIGA - Pendulous Integrating Gyroscopic Accelerometer. When The Peacekeeper missile was developed, its guidance system didn't have PIGAs, It had SFIRs - Specific Force Integrating Resolvers. These came out of the same shop at MIT that had developed the PIGAs and had a substantial development budget. To those in the know, a SFIR was the Same Friggin' Instrument Renamed. And the term came to be used generically to refer to this sort of shenanigans.


You mention a well-suited term in passing in your question: The item or good has been repackaged.

Perhaps the repackaging consists solely of a new price tag to accommodate inflation or to reflect the perceived premium value of a fresh product. Alternatively, maybe the item has been cleaned up, dolled up, spiffed (or spiffied) up, given a new coat of wax/paint, or given a new shine/facelift so that it superficially (but deceptively) appears new. But it's old hat (see the related synonyms here). It's yesterday's news—everyone has seen it before.

Your final example, of the "special" salt, evokes a somewhat different concept: that of price discrimination in economics. Companies lose money if they sell a product for $5 that the consumer would have been willing to spend $10 on. In the extreme example, the same good is packaged in multiple different ways (e.g., the same spirits being bottled and sold at the price points of well liquor and call liquor), and those who are willing to pay more (unknowingly for the same product), do.

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