When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

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"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is a proverbial phrase used to encourage optimism and a can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. Lemons suggest bitterness, while lemonade is a sweet drink.


The phrase was initially coined by Christian anarchist writer Elbert Hubbard in a 1915 obituary he penned and published for dwarf actor Marshall P. 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 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]

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

In 2011 the rap duo Bad meets evils song loud noises Eminem said "Life handed me lemons, I jumped back in the public eye And squirted lemon juice in it"

The 2011 video game Portal 2 parodies this saying, with character Cave Johnson 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!

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, make potato salad! And I've just got a recipe! Buckle your pants! Buckle your pants! Put up your socks and dance!


External Links[edit]

A crowd sourced collection of 'When Life Gives You Lemon ..." quotes: http://www.bubblews.com/news/1173689-when-life-gives-you-lemons-make-lemonade-quotes

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) 14 (5): xxiv–d, archived from the original on September 13, 2012 
  3. ^ "The Reader's Digest of Lasting Interest", Reader's Digest (66), October 1927: 343, archived from the original on September 8, 2012 
  4. ^ "Public Libraries: A monthly review of library matters and methods" 25. Chicago: Library Bureau. 1920. p. 268. 
  5. ^ "Forbes, Volumes 10–11,", Forbes, 10–11, 1922: 185 
  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 and 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, June 10, 1944: 64 
  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.