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  1. Senior Member
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    #1

    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. Ouisch's Avatar
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    #2

    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. Senior Member
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    #3

    Re: sell his way out of a paper bag

    I see. It's been helpful.

    Thank you.

  4. BobK's Avatar
    Harmless drudge
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    #4

    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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