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, Wales and Northern Ireland), while the seller is known as a fence.
- An Australian television ad 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.
- 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 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.
- 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 Rio, the crate carrying Blu really does fall off the back of a truck, and is found by Linda.
- In Rugrats in Paris, this is Angelica's explanation for where she got Dill's new pacifier. She actually pulled it out of another baby's mouth.
- In Bedknobs and Broomsticks, during the Portobello Road sequence, the main characters are offered something that "fell off the back of a lorry".
- 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 has knowledge of how they function.
- 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 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!"
- 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!"
- 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.
- 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 led 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.
- Steel: When John Henry Irons tells his friend "Sparky" Sparx that they are going to fight crime, Sparky sarcastically points out that all of the resources they have on hand is what is inside of John Henry's uncle Joe's junkyard and that's it. Cue Uncle Joe rolling in, to Sparky's surprise, a military-grade supercomputer mainframe that someone stole and sold him for scrap money.
Uncle Joe: You'd be surprised what kind of things can be found 'round here that "fell off the back of a truck". [hands her paper and a pencil for her to make a list]
- America (The Book) claims that this type of good is a major benefit of supporting organized labor in its section on lobbyists.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.)
- 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".
- 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 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.
- 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'."
- 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 convinced he stole it. It later turns out it did fall out of an armored truck, and after returning it he got a thanks from the city.
- Bob was able to get Becker a brand-new computer for a very low price, claiming it fell off the back of a truck. Becker, feeling guilty for believing he received stolen property, tries to give it back to Bob. Bob then reveals he actually bought it at full price and made up that story as he wanted to appear as a tough guy.
- Anything that Walker supplies in Dad's Army, although he rightly points out that "these things don't just fall off the back of a truck of their own accord, they've got to be pushed" when pointing out that his job is actually difficult.
- 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.
- In Everybody Hates Chris, Chris is able to sell truckloads of cookies by falsely saying they "fell off the truck this morning".
- Family Matters: One episode has Eddie buy a stereo for his car from someone Weasel knows for an absurdly low price. Steve is immediately suspicious and notices that the stereo's serial number has been scratched off, which he then reports to Carl. Eddie is initially upset at Steve over this, but when his car disappears (because the police impounded it in order to remove the stolen stereo), he realizes that the person who'd had the stereo stolen in the first place must have been just as worried and upset as he was.
- Early episodes of Good Times depict JJ with a propensity for bringing home money or objects he "found".
- In Living Color! spoofs the trope with "The Homeboy Shopping Network" — the pair of "hosts" gleefully sell merchandise from the truck instead of waiting for it to fall off.
- In 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.
- Married... with Children: Bud and Kelly tried to give their parents a jukebox that literally fell off a truck.
- 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!"
- Motive: In "The Score", the Victim of the Week steals a truck full of stolen merchandise from an underworld middleman. Trying to 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".
- One episode of Naturally, Sadie involves 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. However, no one asks her where she got them, so she never has to drop the trope name.
- 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.
- 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 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".
- The Wire: Apparently a common practice on the Baltimore docks, although Frank berates Nicky and Ziggy for stealing a whole container of cameras, when the old guard just take a couple... maybe four... boxes of Vodka from a container that was already broken into.
- The Young Ones: 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 that Mike had actually arranged for this to happen, making it this trope.
- 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.
- "I Love Boosters" by The Coup:
My shirt is from Stacey, my pants are from Rhonda
My shoes came out the trunk of a baby blue Honda
My wardrobe's in luck if something falls off a truck
If you're looking for some leather, then go see Yolanda
- The UK band Denim recorded a song titled "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 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.
- Not surprisingly, Crazy Redd in Animal Crossing claims to deal in "everything that fell off the back of a truck".
- In BattleTech, the Heavy Metal DLC grants a free Heavy Metal crate that contains a random mech and several of the DLC's advanced weapons (also random) to you in Career Mode. Your head technician says that if anyone asks, just say that it fell out the back of a dropship.
- 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.
- This is apparently common enough in the world of Cyberpunk 2077 that "smuggling" contraband into Night City actually has its own manifest document, listing the contraband into question as to be "Lost on Arrival", or LOA, when it crosses the border into the city. Of course, if you want the border guards to keep from looking too closely at the contraband (and possibly alerting a Mega-Corp to their stolen property), smugglers will commonly ensure said guards' palms are well-greased with a significant bribe — but even this doesn't always stop said guard from alerting the Corp anyways, especially if the Corp is offering a bigger payout than the smuggler's bribe may be. The describe situation occurs to V in the "Nomad" lifepath, and a secondary character in the first act is a Corpo who is attempting to locate a mole who listed an entire convoy as LOA, resulting in it getting purloined by a local gang.
- From the Discworld video game:
- Dragon Age: Origins: Intrepid Merchant Bodahn Feddic, when asked where he gets his wares, gives an excuse like this, and when pressed, reveals that he picks up what's left behind by War Refugees. The Player Character can chastise him for this, but they're no better, being a Kleptomaniac Hero.
- Dragon Quest VII: Pike would really rather you not ask where he got the stuff he's trying to offer you. Whoever his supplier is, they've got good connections - the Holy Water and Sizzling Stone he sells you are both the real deal and plot-important.
- The Fallout 3 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."
- The Grimestreet Smuggler card in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft's line when summoned is "What? They fell off a truck."
- Referenced in Love of Magic; "Fell off the Back of a Lorry" is the name of the achievement for selling gems back to the quartermaster.
- The MechCommander 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. Humorously, the manual heavily implies that the reason it's illegal isn't because it's stolen military property, but because it's a bootleg.
- This also appears at least once in the MechWarrior games, where a supply of ordinarily legal equipment 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...
- 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 that it did come off the back of a truck — it was stolen from it.
- 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.
- 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."
- Reliable Matthew from Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong is all but said outright to be fleecing stolen or outdated drones, and the Player Character is allowed to snark at him whether or not his 'great selection' fell off the back of a passing boat.
- 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."
- Darvo from Warframe in one of the Darvo Deals videos (supplemental videos about In-game Discounts) claim that his merchandise "fell off the back of a Corpus shuttle." He wasn't lying. or to be more precise, "The entire back of the shuttle fell off after it took a direct hit from a Fomorian class ship." Downplayed Trope, as he merely was Robbing the Dead.
- 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.
- This is 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 every day, they ask him to train a robot to steal the excess produce from them.
- In Second Empire, 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".
- The Amazing World of Gumball provides a literal example in the episode "The Shippening", when Sarah acquires a magic notebook that 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 off the back of a truck word for word, then clarifies she doesn't mean it as a euphemism.
- Class of 3000: "Where did you get that rocket?" "It fell off the back of a truck!"
- In Danger Mouse on the Orient Express, Greenback has possession of a document giving him carte blanche to build whatever he wants in Europe ( the ep starts with a motorway being built on the Grand Canal of Venice). When DM asks Greenback where he got the document, he responds "It fell off the back of a safe in the Medici museum!"
- In one Drawn Together episode, a "crashed meat zeppelin" is the explanation for where Spanky and later Clara get meat which is actually the meat of Clara's animal friends. Then she gets suspicious when an actual meat zeppelin flies by, unharmed.
- 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 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 in him, Timmy hooks himself up to a lie detector to prove he didn't steal the stuff he got from "Internet". It backfires when Timmy's Dad asks where Timmy got the lie detector.
- Looney Tunes: At the start of "French Rarebit", Bugs Bunny (inside a crate of carrots) literally falls off the back of a truck onto the streets of Paris.
- This is the plot of the Rocket Power episode "Losers Weepers". The kids end up with a motorized skateboard that fell off a truck (from a rather aggressive lady driver) but decide to hide it from others...until each one of them tries it out in secret behind the others because the temptation to use it is unbearable (though they convince Sam to use it since he hadn't tried it yet).
- 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?