phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

A bill of goods

Posted by ESC on December 20, 1999

In Reply to: A bill of goods posted by Patty on December 19, 1999

: What does "they sold them a bill of goods" or "a bill a goods" mean? Thank you.

We had a discussion of this phrase a while back. Here's what was said:
BILL OF GOODS - The question was: "What does the phrase "bill of goods" mean. I think it means that something is a bunch of crap but i'm not totally sure. Could someone please clear this up for me!" The Phrase Finder answer: Posted by Harry on November 05, 1999 "The phrase 'sell someone a bill of goods' means to intentionally misrepresent something, to make something worthless seem valuable. It dates from the 1920's. I'm not sure what the origin of the phrase is -- perhaps it means selling someone a description of the goods rather than the goods themselves. To 'sell someone a bill of goods' means to put one over on him. Make him believe a bunch of baloney. Or, as the 'World Book Dictionary' puts it: 'sell a bill of goods, Slang, to mislead or seek to mislead by a specious or false argument, set of facts, or other deception...' I've not yet been able to find the origin or roots of the phrase. But that's what it means. When goods were traded throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly shiploads of goods such as spices from exotic corners of Africa and the Far East, their value changed dramatically as the quantity available varied. This variation was down to the hazards of the journeys - 2 to 3 years not an atypical duration - news was scarce and unreliable, and the first ship home commanded a huge premium for its cargo. Goods were regularly traded prior to the ship's arrival and misinformation often gave an unscrupulous owner an unfair advantage as he traded his goods for a price they would never eventually command due to lateness, spoilage or even non-existence due to loss at sea. To be sold a bill of goods therefore was to buy sight unseen and hope your insight and inside knowledge turned a profit on the deal when the ship came into port: quite often it never did."

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