[Ads-l] Adage: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Mon Aug 29 01:12:10 UTC 2016

Nowadays, there is such a thing -- one goes grazing near lunch-time at a Whole Foods (or similar) market.


      From: Peter Reitan <pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM>
 Sent: Sunday, August 28, 2016 5:23 PM
 Subject: Re: [ADS-L] Adage: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch
I looked into "free lunch" last year before becoming distracted by something else.

And, since there is no such thing as a "free lunch," someone beat me to the punch.

My summary:

A "free lunch," generally served with beer or liquor in a tavern, dates to at least 1851.  It was kinda like the precursor of the modern happy hour buffet.

Because "free lunches" encouraged people to lounge around in bars, squandering the family's rent money or grocery money on booze and free food; it came under fire from the Temperance movement.

The earliest example I could find of "free lunch" as a metaphor in a socio-economic policy discussion is from poem, credited to Josephine Pollard, that appeared in several papers, as early as September 1887:

The Progressive Farmer (Winston, NC), September 8, 1887, page 5.

Some find it convenient to live at their ease, 
And all obligations to shirk;
On every occasion to do as they please,
And give no attention to work.
As idlers and sluggards, as loungers and drones,
They follow their indolent ways.
By being this lax, increasing the tax
That somebody pays.

Free lunches, free passes, they have at command,
Rich gifts that to others are lost,
And gaily they feast on the fat of the land,
And travel regardless of cost.
But for all the fine banquets, the wear and the tear
Of public or private displays,
Though you may go free, 'tis as sure as can be 
That somebody pays 

Some boast of the credit they freely obtain, 
The taxes from which they're exempt,
And to cancel the favors received, it is plain
They've made not a single attempt;
With honor at stake, they consent to remain 
In debt to the end of their days,
And with insolent pride, a "free horse" they ride,
For which somebody pays.

Some go through the world with a niggardly heart,
And carry a miserly purse,
While others, with liberal zeal, do their part,
And freely their treasures disburse;
And for hours of idleness we may enjoy,
For losses and needless delays,
For waste and neglect, it is well to reflect
That somebody pays.
-Josephine Pollard.

A few weeks later, an anecdote by the same name was published, illustrating the ultimate costs of drinking too much and enjoying free lunches:

The Watchman and Southron (Sumter, South Carolina), October 26, 1887, page 4 (citing a periodical called, Companion:

Somebody Pays

Tom C ----- , a lad from the country who had secured a situation in New York, was taken in charge by John, an older boy, who 'knew the ropes.' Here is the place for dinner,' he said one day, during their hour at noon, stopping before a glittering house, with windows of stained glass, and a gilt sign displaying an attractive bill of fare.

'Clam soup. Ham. Sardines. Cheese. Free lunch.  Come along! You can eat a hearty dinner, all for nothing.'

But Tom drew back.  'I don't understand.  But I'm sure of one thing: Somebody pays,' he said.  A year later he met John, who had been discharged months before, coming out of the ginshop, staggering.  It was late at night.  John's wife, pale, hungry-looking, shabbily clothed, was waiting for him.

'I see now who paid for the free lunches, said the country lad, as he helped her to lead her drunken husband home. - Companion.

I found numerous examples of similar sentiments throughout the 1890s, but not in the familiar form.

The earliest example of something like the familiar idiom that I could find is from 1909:

The Washington Herald, November 2, 1909, page 6

Mr. Tillman's idea that free lunch is good enough for anybody - or even Presidents - may appear sound to some people, but, as a matter of face, there is no such thing as free lunch.  Somebody has to pay for it.

I a similar expression from 1901 - but it was more literal:

The Round Table (Beloit College yearbook), 1900
At Paris there is no such thing as a free lunch, at least I never found anything of the kind, and I looked for them.  You always paid, not very much to be sure . . . .
Pete Reitan

> Date: Sun, 28 Aug 2016 02:06:39 -0400
> From: adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
> Subject: Adage: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:      American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:      ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Adage: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The Quote Investigator website now has an entry on the topic in the
> subject line:
> There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
> http://quoteinvestigator.com/2016/08/27/free-lunch/
> The treatment is incomplete, but the text is already over 3,300 words,
> and that is enough for now. This saying has been discussed on the
> mailing list repeatedly. I shared some findings back in October 2009.
> Feedback welcome,
> Garson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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