What Does Sold a Bill of Goods Mean?

Sold a Bill of Goods Meaning

Definition: To make someone believe a lie.

Often people use this expression when someone has made a promise that he or she cannot keep, despite other people believing this promise.

Origin of Sold a Bill of Goods

A bill of goods refers to a list of items. For example, if someone wanted to sell some materials, the bill of goods would simply be the list of these materials.

However, in the first half of the 1900s, bill of goods earned a negative connotation. This is because of the situation in which person A would show person B a bill of goods, and person B would pay for those items based on the list, rather than waiting and seeing the materials themselves. If person A lied, and the bill of goods was inaccurate, person B would be scammed.

For example, imagine if a salesman showed a bill of goods for some expensive medicine and a sick lady ordered a shipment. If the shipment never arrived, or if it contained placebos, she would have been sold a bill of goods.

Of course, now this expression usually refers to the figurative meaning, in the sense of any lie or deception involved in a scam of this nature.

Examples of Sold a Bill of Goods

Define sell a bill of goods In the first example, two employees are talking together about their new boss.

Marcus: What do you think of the new boss so far?

Patsy: Honestly, I’m very disappointed. Our old boss told us that none of us would lose our jobs, and that things would only get better. That’s why so many of us agreed to stay. However, the new boss has already fired a bunch of people, and things are more disorganized than ever!

Marcus: I completely agree. We’ve been sold a bill of goods! I won’t stand for this deception any longer.

Meaning of sell someone a bill of goods In the second example, a brother and sister are discussing a diet supplement that the man is taking.

Samson: Angela, have you ever tried these diet pills? I don’t think they are helping me.

Angela: Of course they aren’t helping you! That pill brand was all over the news. The company that made them marketed them as a miracle weight loss pill, but, in reality, the pills were filled with harmful chemicals. The company made a huge profit at the expense of people who trusted them. I hate to tell you this, but you got sold a bill of goods.

More Examples

This quote is about deception amongst basketball teams.

  • “[Anthony] feels like he was lied to and sold a bill of goods,” Smith said. “He’s willing to concede he wanted his money, but he didn’t know it would be like this and this bad. He can’t believe the second season for Phil Jackson he has to look forward to being worse than last season was.” –New York Post

This excerpt is about seniors who want a secure retirement.

  • They were sold a bill of goods when their pensions were eliminated in favor of 401(k) plans, a move the originators of 401(k) plans now say they regret. –OC Register


The idiom sold a bill of goods means deceived by false promises.