This one is an easy one. This week on our series on idioms, we tackle an idiom that may have originated in our country itself! This idiom is a part of a huge industry, and most of our loved foods often come with a massive serving of it too! Okay fine, the serving is just butter, not the entire idiom, but if language was that tasty, we’d all learn so much faster, wouldn’t we?
The term “to butter someone up” is used rather often around us. Simply put, it means to flatter someone. To compliment someone, with an intention to get a certain job done. The amusing part of this idiom is in its origin story. While inferences have been made about it being derived from the act of slathering butter on toast, the real story is the most Indian thing you’ll read today. In a true show of desi jugaad, this idiom came about from a practice of organised religion. A lot of Indians used to offer lumps of ghee to Gods in temples, in the hopes of getting their prayers answered. This custom of offering ghee (clarified butter, voila!) to a deity in return for a favour was extremely strange when viewed through foreign eyes, and as is the case with anything that we find strange, they made it bigger than themselves! Lo and behold, an idiom was born. Now, the phrase, “to butter someone up” is used frequently, but very rarely in the context of God. So when you tell your mother that her food tasted amazing in the hopes that she will let you stay out late, or when you tell your boss that their presentation or idea was pure genius, hoping to push them to approve your leave, oh yes, you are buttering them right up.
The interesting part of this idiom is that it can be used both positively, and negatively. You can butter someone up for an innocent gain, or employ false flattery for an ulterior motive as well. What makes this phrase truly international though, is not just its origin from outside the English language, but also that fact that “maska lagana”, its translation, is also equally popular in many Indian languages! Now that you have knowledge of one more idiom, let LearnEd help you with even more, and you will never have the need to butter anyone up to prove your English abilities!