In life, there are many paths you can choose to achieve results. One of those paths includes techniques that not everybody is comfortable using. Because it involves a different type of effort
To butter someone up means to flatter someone to receive a benefit, favor, or to get them to agree with you on something.
Origin Of Expression
Before we go way back in time searching for an answer, I think it is fair to talk a little about butter. I know you know what it is. You probably hate/love it more than I do. But still, I will say a little something about that delicious yellowy treat.
Butter is a dairy product made from the protein components and fat of cream or milk. More frequently, it is made out of cow’s milk, but you can make it using milk from other mammals, like sheep and goats. It is solid when refrigerated, semi-solid at room temperature (spread also). It is a condiment if melted and an ingredient in baking and other cooking procedures. It is oily and greasy when not solid, so keep that in mind because it relates to the overall meaning of the phrase.
Good, we know what butter is, so let’s go to hypothesis number one of the origin of this idiom:
- While the meaning may seem obvious, considering the choice of words, some linguistics think very practically. They believe that the phrase originates from comparing the tasty visual of a fine-buttered slice of out-of-the-oven bread and the satisfying feeling of buttering it with softening the way to requesting a person that we think otherwise might not respond in our favor without all the process. Or, to put it in other words, spreading good words simulates spreading golden, tasty, soft butter.
This hypothesis makes a lot of sense; it is simple, short, is relatable, and looks self-explanatory. But let’s go to the second one and see.
If we put it in the context of history, in ancient India, “Clarified butter” or Ghee butter is the result of water evaporation, and solids are separated from the butterfat. It’s been traditional since ancient times in Middle Eastern and South Asian cooking. And its has also been used in traditional medicine and religious rituals.
- In ancient India, it was customary to throw or spread little Ghee butter balls to the sculptures of the different divinities during worship. These buttery “gifts” were to secure favors from them like good and abundant crops, health, peace, and good fortune. This practice may have begun as far as 1,600 BC.
In the more “recent” years, between 600 and 900 AD, we have hypothesis number three. And goes something like this:
- There were sculptures made of colored butter and displayed for all the benevolent and good beings in heaven to observe. It was common in the New Years’ eve celebrations.
It is an ancient practice to offer food to higher beings, and butter is an excellent choice.
Here we have three hypotheses that each make sense. Two of them have a historical background, and the other one is very practical.
How People Use The Phrase
In general, the use of “butter someone up” is the same in every intention:
- To please someone to get something in profit.
- To charm someone with flattery or blessings because you need something from them.
- To flatter someone a lot in order to get them to agree with something.
- To say nice stuff notably to someone so that they can do you a favor.
- To praise or compliment someone to make him or her more willing.
- To be particularly charming, and more specifically to compliment them in an effort to get something in return.
Examples Of The Phrase
- Fred always buttered up the manager, so he was shocked when he lost the promotion.
- My partner, wishing for a promotion, is constantly buttering up the supervisor.
- If I butter up the waiter, maybe he’ll get us a drink.
- If you butter up mom, she’ll let you use the car.
- If you ever need his assistance, you will have to butter him up first.
- Butter her up first to get that wifi password.
- Don’t bother buttering him up for anything. It doesn’t work.
- I said no. I won’t butter anyone up to get anything. I just can do it. It’s not in me to be like that.
- I know I won’t win. All of them have been buttering up the judges for weeks. They have them on their side.
- A business wishing to influence the government must butter up the House and the Senate.
- I attempted to butter up my mom by mowing the lawn before I asked to use the truck.
- At least butter her up before you ask her for money.
- A classmate tried to butter the coach up.
- She buttered up the professor repeatedly.
- Nikky’s kind compliments about her not-so-friendly supervisor made it obvious that she was just attempting to butter him up.
- Buttering up people is a great form to get them to assist you when you want it.
- John is excellent at buttering up his boss, and that’s how he often gets raised.
- I am not so great at buttering up people because I can be pretty honest and straightforward.
- Henry’s spontaneous comments about his manager showed that his earlier compliments only helped to butter his manager up.
- To butter up people is not the most reliable method to get them to be willing to you.
Food-related phrases are very common. Since eating is a whole experience by itself, everything from preparing the dish to eating eat has its interpretation in the world. Om this case, I have come across some synonyms of this phrase that you may have heard. Some of them sound kind of tough and rough. But some of them are not. Check them out and see which one of them you already knew and which ones are new to you. Use them. Include them in your vocabulary to make it richer. Here they are:
- Work on
- Suck up to
- Spread it on
- Play up to
- Lay it on thick
More Interesting Idioms
Now we know that the phrase: “butter someone up” refers to using words to shorten the path to success when requesting something from someone. And, we have to be honest, it works. That’s why people keep doing it and get results. The problem I see is that the person being buttered up must be fair, for instance, when you have to make multiple decisions to pick a winner. Suppose you prefer the one who buttered you up. It is not fair. You must choose the one who earned it.
Always remember that if you are being buttered up, that means that person wants something out of you. Remember that. Keep it at the top of your mind. And what is it that you have that a person will go to those measures instead of just asking? Why wouldn’t they just do it the easier way? It must be because there is a strong chance that you will say no, and they know that. Be careful because you might agree with something that you regret later on.
On the other hand, not every time people will have a negative agenda behind all their buttering. Maybe they are just making sure to have your agreement on whatever they are going to request from you, like kids, for instance, sometimes they can come up with a playful way of buttering you up that is obvious from miles away. They know it, and you know it too. So, in that case, there is no need to act all tough and defensive about it. Just have a good laugh and see what’s better for them and explain it.
To conclude, buttering someone up is a form of manipulation that you decide if you accept or not to play that game if you are conscious of it. Keep in mind that compliments are better earned. If you get them only because of what you can offer, then people are lying to you. Think about it and act on it.
Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He’s one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don’t even want to know what he calls pancakes.