What does the idiom "butter sb up" mean?

The phrase butter sb up is often used in English, but what does this idiom mean? When idioms are used in the right situations, they strengthen communication and enrich the language. You can communicate more effectively by learning the meaning of butter sb up.

Meaning of "butter sb up"


The phrase ‘butter someone up’ is an idiom with a figurative meaning, which is to flatter someone in order to gain their favour. It is an attempt to persuade or influence an individual’s opinion or behaviour. A person who ‘butters someone up’ may employ tactics such as compliments, gifts, or other shows of kindness, with the goal of getting a desired result.


The origin of this idiom is attributed to ancient Greece and Rome, where guests would bring bread and olive oil to the homes of their hosts as a sign of hospitality and friendship. This gesture would often be reciprocated by the hosts offering the visitors a generous pouring of butter as a gesture of hospitality. Secondly, a link can also be drawn to the tradition of ‘greasing the gears’ which was used to describe the act of bribery. This expression dates back to the early 20th century, where bribe money was literally referred to as ‘grease’ and used to ‘grease the wheels’ of a situation, in order to make them turn easier. Finally, the phrase ‘buttering up’ may have a similarity to the phrase ‘buttering someone’s bread’ which originates from the Midlands of England and is used to describe someone envying another’s success.


This expression is typically used as a warning in a situation where someone is trying to use flattery to gain favour. It could be used in a humorous way to describe one’s own attempts at making a good impression, or in a more serious way to describe the actions of someone who is trying to manipulate another. It can also be used to refer to someone who is over-doing the act of flattery, to the point where it can become insincere and obvious.

Example Sentences

  • He was buttering her up with compliments all night so that she would agree to go out with him.
  • Stop trying to butter me up - I’m already convinced.
  • He was buttering up the boss in the hope that he would be given a promotion.

The meanings of the words in the "butter sb up" idiom

From Shakespeare to Social Media: The Evolution of English Idioms

English idioms have been around for centuries, with many originating from sources like literature, mythology, and everyday life. Shakespeare, for example, coined many phrases that are still used today, such as "break the ice" and "heart of gold." Over time, new idioms have emerged, with social media and popular culture providing rich sources of inspiration. For instance, the phrase "throwing shade" came into use in the 1990s thanks to ball culture, but has since been popularized by social media.


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