Fall off the back of a lorry

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Fall off the back of a lorry : Phrases


A euphemism for 'to acquire illegally'.



When anyone accounts for their possession of an article by saying it 'fell off the back of a lorry', they may be assumed not to be its legal owner - i.e. it is stolen. This is the British version; in the USA and Australia things fall from trucks. This coy language, which feigns innocence but actually emphasizes illegality by using a phrase that is reserved for illegal dealing, is similar to The Godfather's 'an offer he can't refuse'. Other such that relate specifically to stolen goods are the 'five finger discount' and 'I got it from a man in a pub'. Had the term 'air quotes' been coined at the time they might well have been used when this phrase was spoken.

The earliest printed version of 'fell off the back of a lorry' comes surprisingly late - from The (London) Times, 1968:

"The suggestion of the finder, a casual motorist, that the records 'must have fallen off the back of a lorry'."

Their are many anecdotal reports of it from the UK from much earlier than that, and it is likely to date back to at least WWII. It's just the sort of language that the 'wide-boys' or 'flash Harrys' who peddled illegal goods during and after WWII would have used. These were exemplified in plays and films by George Cole, Sidney James, etc. I'm sure a thorough scan of the scripts of the post-war Ealing comedies would throw up a pre-1968 example.

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