When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

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A cut lemon standing out between two grey lemons and against a grey background

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is a proverbial phrase used to encourage optimism and a positive can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. Lemons suggest sourness or difficulty in life, just like lemonade.


The phrase was initially coined by Christian anarchist writer Elbert Hubbard in a 1915 obituary he penned and published for dwarf actor Marshall Pinckney Wilder.[1] The obituary, entitled The King of Jesters, praises Wilder's optimistic attitude and achievements in the face of his disabilities:

"He was a walking refutation of that dogmatic statement, Mens sana in corpore sano. His was a sound mind in an unsound body. He proved the eternal paradox of things. He cashed in on his disabilities. He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade-stand."[2]

Although the expression was coined by Hubbard,[3][4][5] many modern authors[6][7] attribute the expression to Dale Carnegie who used it in his 1948 book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Carnegie's version reads:

"If You Have a Lemon, Make a Lemonade."[8]

Carnegie credited Julius Rosenwald for giving him the phrase.


The September 1916 edition of the Auburn Seminary Record was the first to publish the phrase following its initial coinage:

"[Hugh K. Walker] described a pessimist as one who fletcherizes his bitter pill, the optimist as the man who made lemonade of the lemon handed him."[9]

Eight years before Carnegie's book brought the phrase back into the mainstream, a poetic rendition of the phrase entitled The Optimist appeared in a 1940 edition of The Rotarian:

"Life handed him a lemon,
As Life sometimes will do.
His friends looked on in pity,
Assuming he was through.
They came upon him later,
Reclining in the shade
In calm contentment, drinking
A glass of lemonade."[10]

In 1944, during Homer E. Capehart's first run for Senate, he became known for saying:

"I have never been afraid of trouble. I have always had this slogan: If somebody hands you a lemon, make lemonade of it."[11][12][13]

In popular culture[edit]

Warren Hinckle's 1974 autobiography detailing his time as chief editor of Ramparts is called If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade.[14]

The saying is the moral for the Happy Tree Friends episode Eyes Cold Lemonade.

In 2008, the band Atmosphere released an album entitled When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold.

In 2011, in the rap duo Bad Meets Evil's song Loud Noises, Eminem said

Life handed me lemons, I jumped back in the public eye And squirted lemon juice in it.

— Eminem
T-shirt using a twisted Spanish-language version of the proverb, an anti-proverb, to advertise a taqueria in Dallas, TX: "When life gives you lemons/limes, put it on a taco."

The 2011 video game Portal 2 parodies this saying, with character Cave Johnson's last message before his death stating:

When life gives you lemons? Don't make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! GET MAD! 'I don't want your damn lemons! What am I supposed to do with these?!' Demand to see life's manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am?! I'm the man who's going to burn your house down! With the lemons! I'm going to get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!

— Portal 2

The saying has become a popular calque in Hispanic culture.[6]

In an episode of the sitcom Two and a Half Men, character Charlie Harper, a very successful and optimistic jingle writer, compares himself to his younger brother Alan, who is leading an unsuccessful and miserable life:

The difference between you and me is, when life gives me lemons, I make lemonade. When you get lemons, you just bite into them and suck them inside out.

At the ending of game BattleBlock Theater, after staff roll, the narrator parodies this saying:

When life gives you potatoes, ya make potato salad! And I've just got a recipe! Buckle your pants! Buckle your pants! Pull up your socks and dance!

— The narrator

In the 2012 video game Kid Icarus: Uprising Hades says the line: “When freaky aliens give you lemons, make freaky alien lemonade.”

A challenge in the video game The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is titled “When Life Gives You Lemons...”.

In 2015, the video game: Call of Duty: Black Ops III, in the Zombies mode Shadows of Evil, when he buys a gun off the wall, Jack Vincent often says “When life gives you lemons, BUY A F*CKING GUN.”

In the lyrics of a song by Eminem entitled "Rap God", he said “Life's handing you lemons? Make lemonade then.”

The song I'll Fly from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, season 5 episode 5, starts with “When life gives you lemons, you can make lemonade.”

In 2016, Beyoncé released her sixth album titled Lemonade. The album's theme stems from a quote from Jay-Z's grandmother, Hattie White, featured on the album at the end of track 10 "Freedom", when she says "I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hubbard, Elbert (1922). Selected Writings of Elbert Hubbard. V. Wm. H. Wise & Co./The Roycrofters. p. 237. Archived from the original on September 8, 2012. 
  2. ^ Hubbard, Elbert (February 1915), "The Fra: A Journal of Affirmation", The Fra, Elbert Hubbard, vol. 14 no. 5, p. xxiv–d, archived from the original on September 13, 2012 
  3. ^ "The Reader's Digest of Lasting Interest", Reader's Digest, no. 66, p. 343, October 1927, archived from the original on September 8, 2012 
  4. ^ "Public Libraries: A monthly review of library matters and methods". 25. Chicago: Library Bureau. 1920: 268. 
  5. ^ "Forbes, Volumes 10–11", Forbes, vol. 10–11, p. 185, 1922 
  6. ^ a b McKenna, Kevin J. (2009). The Proverbial "Pied Piper". Peter Lang Publishing. p. 55. ISBN 143310489X. 
  7. ^ Keyes, Ralph (2006). The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 118–119. ISBN 0312340044. 
  8. ^ Carnegie, Dale (1948). How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Simon & Schuster. p. 138. ISBN 0671733354. 
  9. ^ Auburn Seminary Record, 12 (3), Auburn Theological Seminary, July 10, 1916, p. 313, archived from the original on September 13, 2012 
  10. ^ Flynn, Clarence Edwin (November 1940), The Rotarian, 57 (5), The Rotarian, p. 62 
  11. ^ The Fraternal Monitor, 55–56, 1944, p. 51 
  12. ^ "Capehart Wins Indiana GOP Nomination for U.S. Senate", The Billboard, p. 64, June 10, 1944 
  13. ^ The Business education world, 26, 1945, p. 27 
  14. ^ Hinckle, Warren. If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393306364.