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  1. #1
    unpakwon is offline Senior Member
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    Default sell his way out of a paper bag

    Could you explain the following expression in bold?

    He worked long hours, but he couldn't sell his way out of a paper bag. He was continually frustrated.

    In the context, it just seems to mean "he couldn't sell anything." If so, I can't understand why it is expressed that way.

    Thank you.

  2. #2
    Ouisch's Avatar
    Ouisch is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: sell his way out of a paper bag

    "Out of a paper bag" or "out of a wet paper bag" is a common expression to indicate someone's extreme inability to perform a particular task.

    The phrase originated in the world of boxing. "He couldn't punch his way out of a paper bag" was a derisive way to indicate the weakness of an opponent. A paper bag is very flimsy, and if a person happened to be trapped inside a huge, life-sized paper bag, he should be able to easily tear himself free. Anyway, over time, the "paper bag" analogy spread and was applied to activities outside the boxing ring.

  3. #3
    unpakwon is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: sell his way out of a paper bag

    I see. It's been helpful.

    Thank you.

  4. #4
    BobK's Avatar
    BobK is offline Harmless drudge
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    Default Re: sell his way out of a paper bag

    '<verb> his/her way out of a wet paper bag' is similar in weight (that is, feebleness) to '<verb> the skin off a rice pudding'. This is a particularly British idiom I think; my father used to complain about a car with a not particularly powerful engine, saying that it couldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding. I was most impressed at the time, and thought it was an original expression; but it's not (perhaps it's more northern than southern - which is why I hadn't heard it before, with my sheltered southern upbringing). Fred Trueman (Yorkshire and England fast bowler) - Fred Trueman - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - was reported as using it to a batsman who threatened to 'knock him out of the park': 'Tha couldn't knock t'skin off a rice pudding'.

    b

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