Sandra: No, Rodney. What I'm interested in is who pushed them and who picked them up.
Standard method of explaining the acquisition of illegitimate goods, usually by Honest John or Major Opportunity Businesses. Used so much in Real Life and fiction alike that it has become completely synonymous with "I acquired it illegitimately." If you really intend to lie about something's origin, then you'll have to come up with another excuse. (That is, unless your friends or spouse are dumb enough to fall for it.) Legally, this principle is part of just about every stolen property statute around the world; the law invariably assumes that something being sold or given in a suspicious manner would make any reasonable person assume that the items were stolen or otherwise acquired illegitimately, and anyone who willingly purchases items that a layperson would have good reason to believe were stolen can and will be faced with criminal charges.
The origin of the phrase most probably lies with the practice of holding "salvage auctions" for goods that were damaged in transit (say, by actually falling off the back of a truck), where the damaged goods usually sold for a tiny fraction of their normal price. The people who bought such goods could then resell them at a larger fraction of their normal price and still make a profit. Of course, it didn't take long for unscrupulous operators to realize that one could push something off the back of the truck, or simply claim that it had fallen off the truck, and sell it the same way. From there it was an easy step to simply using the phrase to mean "acquired through questionable means".
All of the above notwithstanding, sometimes the person claiming this is telling the truth, and whatever they acquired really did fall off the back of a truck.
Whoever buys these kinds of goods (except, of course, for the last paragraph) is guilty of what The Other Wiki calls possession of stolen goods (or equivalent in your country, such as handling stolen goods in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland), while the seller is known as a fence.
- An Australian television add for a chain store used an actual notorious criminal of the era. After promoting the store's cheap "off the back of a truck prices" with a wink and "you know what I mean", he'd clean out the till and run off at the sound of a police siren.
- This is the explanation Switch gives for the origin of the video camera he gives to Bob in Knights of the Dinner Table. Bob actually believes it and comments that it is in excellent condition considering. That is, it's only got one scratch which funnily enough only damaged the serial number beyond legibility.
- In Whizzer and Chips, the character Sweet Tooth is once offered some cheap sweets that had "fallen off the back of a lorry".
Sweet Tooth: You mean they're stolen?
Salesman: No, they fell off the back of a lorry. And the cars behind drove over them. That's why they're so cheap.
- In the first part of the Spider-Man arc "Shed", Spidey laments that his and Black Cat's thwarting of some smugglers went awry before he could quip that two defeated foes "must have fallen off the back of a truck", "because that's what these mob types say about the junk they steal from trucks."
Spider-Man: Looks like these two fell off the back of a truck...
Black Cat: What?
- In Rio, the crate carrying Blu really does fall off the back of a truck, and is found by Linda.
- In Small Soldiers, Alan uses this trope on Joe, the Globotech delivery man, when begging him to let his dad's store have a set of Commando Elite action figures as well as a set of Gorgonite action figures (neither of which had been officially released yet, which could have lead to a lot of trouble for Joe if word got out about the new toys being there).
Alan: What, you're telling me that, in all the time you've run deliveries, nothing has ever just... fallen off the back of the truck?
Joe: Hey, I don't like your tone.
Joe: [leans closer] It's too loud.
- Red Dawn (1984): A literal example, several boxes of food fall off the back of a Soviet supply truck as a convoy stops for a moment before driving off. Also a subversion: It's a trap. As soon as they take the bait, they're ambushed by Spetsnatz troopers and attack helicopters.
- Married to the Mob references this. The main character is sick of her husband's organized crime connections, and says angrily, "Everything we own fell off the back of a truck!"
- In The First Wives Club, Brenda's Sicilian uncle reveals that when her ex-husband opened his first store, the merchandise fell off the back of one of their trucks.
- In Bedknobs and Broomsticks during the Portobello Road sequence, the main characters are offered something that "fell off the back of a lorry."
- In Harry Potter, Mundungus Fletcher claims that a bunch of cauldrons he has "fell off the back of a broom". (This is, of course, the series that named Hold Your Hippogriffs.)
- Discworld: While Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler is best known for selling nearly-inedible foods, he has been known to deal in "absolutely anything that could be sold hurriedly from an open suitcase in a busy street and was guaranteed to have fallen off the back of an oxcart".
- The Borrible Trilogy: Mentions of things falling off the backs of lorries are followed by comments about how bumpy the roads are in London, or what a useful thing gravity is. Pretty much all the characters are professional thieves of one sort or other and are using the phrase with heavy irony.
- America (The Book) claims that this type of good is a major benefit of supporting organized labor in its section on lobbyists.
- In White Oleander, Rina's boyfriend Sergei offers Astrid a necklace that he found "lying in the street." She isn't fooled. But she has sex with him anyway.
- In The Silver Crown, many of the objects in Otto's mother's house really did fall off the back of a truck, as there's a sharp turn nearby that often leads to trucks driving into a ditch. Of course, if someone wasn't covering up the warning sign, it probably wouldn't happen nearly as often...
- In the Rivers of London book Whispers Under Ground, Peter describes the illegal markets that float around London: "When things fall off the back of a lorry, a nazareth is where they end up." A goblin market is "a nazareth for things that were a bit too odd to be travelling by lorry in the first place".
- Pops up a few times in Law & Order.
- In The Drew Carey Show, Lewis sells Mimi some experimental make-up from DrugCo saying, "Let's just say it fell off the back of a truck." When Mimi asks where he got it, he says "Like I said, it fell off the back of a truck!" implying that it really fell off the back of a truck.
- Occurs a lot in Only Fools and Horses, usually as part of whatever Zany Scheme Del-Boy's cooked up to make a bit of money this week.
- Likewise Minder, with or without the connivance of Arthur Daly.
- Seinfeld: Jerry buys his father a $200 organizer, but claims he got it for $50, hinting that it may have come from this source. His father is proud that Jerry made such a smart move (which is why Jerry claimed it).
- Used in The Sopranos when Tony gives his neighbor a box of expensive cigars.
- In Dad's Army anything that Walker supplies. Although he rightly points out: "These things don't just fall off the back of a truck of their own accord, they've got to be pushed" when defending that his job is indeed difficult.
- In Everybody Hates Chris, Chris is able to sell truckloads of cookies by falsely saying they "fell off the truck this morning".
- On an episode of White Collar, a career criminal caught with a briefcase full of gold coins claims they "fell off a truck." Subverted to some extent because he clearly is being sarcastic and his next line is, "I want to talk to my lawyer."
- Babylon 5: In the first episode, Commander Sinclair is handed a copy of every file Ambassador Delenn has concerning the Vorlons. While handing over the data card, Delenn smirks and says "Here is a copy of everything I have. It may be of use. If anyone asks, say 'it fell from the sky.'"
- Black Scorpion: Darcy's corvette gets turned into the Black Scorpionmobile thanks to Argyle fitting it with all sorts of outlandish technology that he just happened to come by and had knowledge of how they function.
- Married... with Children: Bud and Kelly tried to give their parents a jukebox that literally fell off a truck.
- Taken Up to Eleven on The Young Ones, in which a truck carrying everything the boys might possibly have a use for just happens to back itself through their front windows, then be abandoned to their care by its driver. It's implied Mike had actually arranged for this to happen, making it this trope.
- In Becker, Linda states that her boyfriend (who throughout the series has been stated to do illegal things) found a big bag of money after it fell off the back of a truck. Linda, not believing him, leaves him believe he stole it. It later turns out it did fall out of an armored truck, and after returning it got a thanks from the city.
- On an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie and Dee find a set of speakers that literally fell off the back of a truck. Unknown to them, hidden inside the speakers was a package of cocaine belonging to some local mobsters.
- Modern Family references this trope when Cameron objects to Mitchell lying their way out of a burdensome social engagement, but later begs him to take care of it. Mitchell's response is "You're like a mob wife. You complain about what I do, but have no problem wearing the fur that fell off the back of the truck!"
- Used on an episode of Naturally, Sadie. There's a tie that makes the holder incredibly lucky. Margaret is holding it when a delivery truck passes by- and a box of cute shoes in her size falls off right at her feet. Though no one asks her where she got them so she never has to drop the trope name.
- Early episodes of Good Times depicted JJ with a propensity for bringing home money or objects he "found."
- In Living Color! spoofed the trope with "The Homeboy Shopping Network" with the pair of "hosts" gleefully selling merchandise from the truck instead of waiting for it to fall off.
- Motive: In "The Score", the Victim of the Week steals a truck fill of stolen merchandise from a underworld middleman. Trying to on sell the stolen goods, his contact asks where the merchandise came from. The victim replies with a knowing "It fell off the back off a truck".
- The Bucko and Champs song Here Comes Christmas Bob contains the line in the chorus:
Here comes Christmas Bob
Selling cheap prezzies in the pub
If you've got the cash, then you're in luck
Get a VCR off the back of a truck.
- The UK band Denim recorded a song called "It Fell Off the Back of a Lorry".
- During their stint on WCW, the bad boy tag team the Public Enemy would show up in WCW merchandise promos by saying, "You won't believe what fell off the truck this week!"
- In The Great Muppet Caper, a literal example occurs when Miss Piggy is trying to reach the Mallory Gallery to help Kermit and the others. The truck she's driving breaks down, and in despair, she wonders what she'll do...and then a truck advertising motorcycle tricks drives by, and the motorcycle in question (as well as the spangly outfit that goes with it) literally falls out of the back of the truck and lands right next to her. She even lampshades it by remarking "What an unbelievable coincidence!"
- In The Space Gypsy Adventures many of Gemma and Damien's suppliers claim "it fell off the back of a transport", followed by an explanation of the phrase for the audience.
- The Nameless Mod: Winquman, the PDX quartermaster, is told by his supplier that the PHAT Rifle he got fell off the back of a truck. The World Corp storyline reveals it DID come off the back of a truck — it was stolen from it.
- Not surprisingly, Crazy Redd in Animal Crossing claims to deal in "everything that fell off the back of a truck."
- Arona Daal from Startopia uses this line when selling you medical supplies in the second mission, claiming "it fell off the back of a [hospital] trolley."
- The Mech Commander 2 manual (which is referred to in-universe as a "Tactical Data Display") was obtained by Sgt. Cash from his usual suppliers. Lt. Diaz tells you to say it "fell off the back of an armored personnel carrier" if anyone asks.
- This also appears at least once in the MechWarrior games, where a supply of ordinarily legal eqipment can be bought for a suspiciously lower price than normal. The equipment is heavily implied to have been acquired by illicit means, while the seller in turn claims it fell out of a Drop Ship. This is a particularly poor excuse since Dropships are hermetically sealed against space before takeoff and during transit. Well, they're sealed unless they're attacked by Aerospace Fighters that shoot holes in them. Sometimes that happens. And sometimes when it happens, things might fall out of the Dropship and land on something soft enough that they're still in a remarkably usable condition...
- In World of Warcraft one Ethreal smuggler will sometimes try to sell passing players an item that he says fell off the back of a pack mule.
- The Grimestreet Smuggler card in Hearthstone's line when summoned is "What? They fell off a truck."
- In Fallout 3 the DLC Operation: Anchorage includes this trope when successfully talking your way into a gauss rifle. The armorer actually says "if anyone asks, it fell off a truck."
- From the Discworld video game:
- In the Shadow Raid heist in PAYDAY 2, Bain tells the crew that Gage acquires his merchandise this way and the crew will be picking it up for him from a Murkywater warehouse.
- Clockwork Empires has some enterprising colonists offering you "perfectly legal" goods from time to time. Of course, there's always some pesky jobsworth watching your hands, so accepting those goods has some consequences.
- From one of the Darvo Deals from Warframe: "I found this great merchandise after it fell off the back of a Corpus shuttle. Actually, to be more precise, the entire back of the shuttle fell off after it took a direct hit from a Formorian. So, not such a lucky day for those guys, heh. But good for you right?!". Considering the Corpus and Grineer are actually pulling guns on each other more often than they are pulling guns on the Tenno, Darvo probably wasn't lying about the origins of the goods.
- In Rock Star Ate My Hamster, you have the option of buying terrible but ultra-cheap band equipment from "off the back of a lorry."
- In Second Empire, a webcomic starring the Daleks in one of their interminable internal wars, one of the characters notes the head scientist got excellent prices for some stuff that happened to "fall off the back of a cargo ship".
- That's how Lothar in Exterminatus Now acquired a VTOL battle aircraft of the Inquisition's model, at least according to himself.
- The Robots in Freefall do this in order to prevent food wastage by letting Sam steal food that they would otherwise be required to throw out. Then, since he isn't available to steal from them everyday, they ask him to train a robot to steal the excess produce from them.
- The Simpsons:
- This trope is zanily parodied, as is usual in the show. When Homer is asked how he acquired a truck, he answers, "It fell off a truck-truck." It is immediately used again in the same scene, where Bart drives a truck-truck and is asked where he got it. He answers, "It fell off a truck-truck... -truck." Maggie then drives onto the scene with a truck-truck-truck.
- An earlier episode inverted this by having several things fall onto the back of a truck. When Homer is driving on the freeway and immediately slams on his brakes, the transport truck driving behind him is forced to stop. All of the drivers behind the transport truck can't stop in time and their cars all end up piling onto the truck. The driver declares "finders keepers" and drives off with all the cars.
- Another early episode had a slight variation when Hans Moleman crashes a cargo truck filled with sugar and Homer took it all. In this case, the sugar fell out of the truck. Not only that, but under Springfield law Homer acquired the sugar legally-Springfield's town charter states that any foodstuffs that touch the ground belong to the village idiot...and who do you think fulfills that role?
- Class of 3000: "Where did you get that rocket?" "It fell off the back of a truck!"
- The Fairly Oddparents: Timmy cannot tell anyone about Cosmo and Wanda, but he gets all this great stuff from them. So when people (like his parents or friends) ask him where he got XYZ, he responds, "Uh...Internet?" This is usually sufficient (only because Timmy's parents and friends are rather dim-witted). Except at one point, when his father asks: "And where did you get the internet?" Later, trying to restore his parents' faith on him, Timmy hooks himself up to a lie detector to prove he didn't steal the stuff he got from "Internet". It backfired when Timmy's Dad asked where Timmy got the lie detector.
- Rugrats in Paris: Angelica's explanation for where she got Dill's new pacifier. She actually pulled it out of another baby's mouth.
- A literal example is implied in Ed, Edd n Eddy, when the kids are all gaping at the Eds' newest scam, a prize grabber machine, and wondering where it came from (unaware as of yet that it was the Eds' creation).
Jimmy: Did it fall out of a truck?
Sarah: That's how my brother was born!
- The Amazing Worldof Gumball provides a literal example in the episode "The Shippening", where Sarah acquires a magic notebook which falls out of a van as it speeds past her house during a police chase. When Gumball and Darwin confront her about the notebook later, she tells them it fell of the back off a truck word for word, then clarifies she doesn't mean it as a euphemism.