By Mark Peters
If I had a lemon for every time I heard “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” I’d have enough lemons to open a lemons-only Wal-Mart. If I had another lemon for every time I heard a variation like, “When life hands you lemons, run straight home and hide them because the apocalypse is upon us and soon everyone will want them,” I’d have an absolute monopoly on the lemon market, fulfilling my boyhood dreams.
This expression and its variations are everywhere, nowhere more so than on Twitter, the richest source of jokes and un-self-conscious language use we have at the moment. For the month of April, I collected the many mutations of this idiom to look for patterns among the proverbs. Thousands of lemon-y tweets prove this isn’t just a cliché or a snowclone: lemon-ology consists of clichés within clichés, snowclones within snowclones—and every once in awhile, a burst of originality. Here’s a look at the lemon landscape.
First, some lemon history. In Fred Shapiro’s wonderful Yale Book of Quotations, he spots the first example of “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade” on Oct. 4, 1972 in the Dallas Morning News. But he finds this line in 1917: “If life hands you a lemon adjust your rose colored glasses and start to selling pink lemonade.” Sure enough, the Oxford English Dictionary shows handing someone a lemon has meant “to pass off a sub-standard article as good; to swindle (a person), to do (someone) down” since at least 1906.
Over a hundred years later, one of the most common forms of lemon subversion basically says, “Screw lemonade. How about some booze?” The alcohol-related suggestions all involve using the lemons in some kind of drink, like so: “When life hands you lemons find some vodka and make margaritas!” Hundreds of tweets are almost identical, though the booze-soaked suggestions do get a little more creative: “When life hands you lemons, have a tequila shot…errr crap, can’t for a week, darn antibiotics!”
Other distortions use the lemon juice not as an alcohol-enhancer but as a potential torture device, as in “If life hands you lemons, find an annoying guy with paper-cuts and make it worthwhile.” Here’s a more self-serving, self-abusing approach: “When life hands you lemons, squirt one in your eye and go on disability. Then sue the guy that grew them. He’s got insurance for that!” And here’s one for the S&M crowd: “When life hands me lemons, I put on my leathers and squeeze the juice into the eyes of the man hogtied & ballgagged in my closet.”
Violent variations go far beyond the painful properties of lemon juice. Various tweeters say you should take the lemons and “throw them at hobos,” “hurl them at a random CEO,” “freeze them so they can knock people unconscious,” “open a lemon aide stand and use the proceeds to buy an assault rifle,” “put them in a tube sock and beat a hipster over the head with it,” “whip them at those dumb jerk kids who set up lemonade stands to show them how you feel about their price gouging,” or “shove them down the bastard’s throat and laugh maniacally as he chokes to death.” I kinda like the bluntness hAdd a Comment