Off the back of a lorry

Example in use: “I went to the flea market on Saturday and picked up some incredible bargains! I couldn’t believe the prices. How can they sell it so cheap and still make some profit?” “I bet it all fell off the back of a lorry!”

Meaning: goods that are of doubtful origin, maybe even illegally obtained, often euphemistically used to mean that you don’t necessarily want to know the origin of the goods.

Possible German equivalent: ist vom Laster gefallen

Possible origin: This idiom is now used in slang to refer to anything where the origin might be doubtful or “not quite legal” or maybe the price is too good to be true. It appears to have its beginnings in “salvage auctions” which were genuine sales of goods that had been damaged in transit and therefore had low prices. These items may really have fallen off the back of the lorry (or truck in the US). If you bought goods at these low prices, then of course, a lot of profit could be made if you resold them.

It would appear that it wasn’t long before less than honest people started “pushing” these goods off the back of the transporters or maybe just claimed that it had fallen off. Illegally obtained goods would then be reported as these damaged goods when in reality there was nothing wrong with them and they could be sold at great profit!

Across the UK, anecdotes report the phrase around the time of WWII while in Australia and the US, it appears in printed form in 1928 and 1937 respectively.

It is now used at any time to talk about goods which you think might not be (or sometime which you know are not) 100% legal.

Interestingly, while the word “truck” appears to be internationally used these days, the UK still holds onto its use of the word “lorry” in everyday language – not only this idiom!

lorry / ˈlɒr.i


Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.