The butter and the money for the butter

In a discussion a few years ago, I saw the phrase, "Now you have the butter and the money." This was new to me, and a little Web searching (guided in part by a guess at the author's nationality) revealed it to be a French proverb, the full version of which is On ne peut pas avoir le beurre et l'argent du beurre: "You can't have the butter and the money for the butter." It's a really nice phrase, and maybe someday I'll be able to use it.

Bonus butter idiom: Reading the blog of a German colleague, I ran across the phrase alles wieder in Butter ("everything back in butter"), which from context appeared to mean something like "everything's all right again." Some more Web searching suggests that I was basically right, and that the idiom comes from the Middle Ages: To prevent glassware transported over the Alps from breaking in transit, a clever businessman discovered that he could set the glasses in a cask, then pour hot butter over them. As the butter cooled, it held the glasses in place, thereby preventing them from rattling against each other and cracking during transport. Everything was back in butter.

Comments (39)
  1. Leandro Teixeira says:


    Just for beeing more "Global/Cultural".

    In Portugal we say "Have the cheese and the knife" in the same context.

  2. JC says:

    In Venezuela we are a little less PC.

    "You cannot have the bottle full and the girl drunk"

  3. The Royal Air Force says:

    Bally Jerry pranged his kite right in the how’s-your-father. Hairy blighter dickie-birdied, feathered a waspy, flipped over on his Betty Harper’s, and caught his can in the bertie!

  4. someone else says:

    To complement your collection of international butter-related phrases, I offer the (north) German “Butter bei die Fische,” which means talking turkey.

    Hmm, turkey and butter …

  5. Here, in Spain, it’s said in yet another form, though not so strong as Venezuela’s. We say "you can’t swim and guard the clothes" ("No puedes nadar y guardar la ropa").

  6. Steve Hiner says:

    I have to add my favorite movie quote involving butter.

    "There’ll be no butter in Hell!"

    from Cold Comfort Farm

    During a fire & brimestone sermon the preacher asks the congregation something like – "You know when you get a little burn on your finger and you clap a little butter onto it to make the pain go away? Well, there’ll be no butter in Hell!"

    I love that movie.

  7. srb says:

    In Serbian: "the fed wolf and no missing sheep."

  8. Don't matter says:

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  9. Bob says:

    @Don’t matter:

    It makes more sense as "You can’t eat your cake and have it too."  

    Some sources say the cake-have version is the original and the have-cake version is a corruption.

  10. Krunch says:

    An extension of the French proverb goes like this:

    On ne peut pas avoir le beurre, l’argent du beurre et le cul de la crémière.

    which translates to

    You can’t have the butter, the money for the butter and the ass of the dairywoman.

  11. Julian says:

    Cold Comfort Farm was a book (1930s) long before it became a film. Well worth reading, along with the sequels.

  12. Julian says:

    The engineer’s version: "Quick, Cheap, Quality" – pick any two.

  13. Fredrik says:

    Here in Sweden we also talk about cookies; "Man kan inte ha kakan och äta den" / "You cannot have the cookie and eat it too". As a side note, we do also have a butter/money related saying "att ha sålt smöret och tappat pengarna", which translates to "to have sold the butter and lost the money", which would pretty much the opposite of having the butter and the money.

  14. mare says:

    "In Serbian: "the fed wolf and no missing sheep.""

    Slovenian: the wolf fed and the goat whole/in one piece :)

  15. virtualblackfox says:

    Krunch: Nice to see that i wasn’t the only one wanting to post the extension to the proverb :D

  16. Guillaume says:

    In French we also say : "Comme du beurre dans la poele" (like butter in a hot pan) to say that something will go smoothly.

  17. Ruben says:

    Well, then there’s Dutch:

    "boter op je hoofd hebben" (having butter on top of one’s head), meaning that you’re being hypocritical, or guilty while feigning innocence.

    "met de neus in de boter vallen" (to fall with one’s nose into the butter): being fortunate (unexpectedly).

    "geen deuk in een [warm] pakje boter kunnen slaan" (not being able to hit a dent into a [warm] packet of butter): being feeble or very weak.

  18. David says:

    In Argentina we have another variation that goes "No podés tener la máquina, los veinte y la máquina de hacer chorizos", roughly translated "you can’t have the pig, the money for the pig and the machine to make sausages".

  19. Nathan says:

    Nice! This one makes more sense than "have your cake and eat it too".

    I like the Venezuelan one that JC pointed out.

  20. Anone says:

    I always read the having part of "You can’t have your cake and eat it, too" as referring to eating the cake (as in "You can’t eat your cake and then eat it again"), in which case it generally made sense in the contexts it’s used, but doesn’t really match the original intention. Only found out in the last year or so that the have was actually intended to be the having possession of version of the word, in fact.

  21. Michael says:

    In Switzerland, we say "Fünfer und s’Weggli", literally: The Five Franc coin and the Breadroll

  22. Javache says:

    In Dutch we have the proverb "met je gat in de boter vallen", which translates to "to fall in butter with your behind" and means "to be very lucky".

  23. Satchmo says:

    The Italian proverb is like the Venezuelan one, but improved: "You can’t have the barrel full and the wife drunk".

  24. Stefan Kanthak says:

    There’s one more "buttered" german proverb: Sich die Butter nicht vom Brot nehmen lassen, which means basically to stand up or fight for oneself/something.

  25. Csaboka says:

    In Hungarian, it’s "a kecske is jóllakjon, a káposzta is megmaradjon" (Have the goat fed but keep the cabbage, too).

    It sounds like the vegetarian version of the Serbian/Slovenian one :)

  26. Nawak says:


    The variation I knew was:

    On ne peut pas avoir le beurre, l’argent du beurre, le cul de la crémière et le sourire du crémier.

    Which translates into:

    You can’t have the butter, the money for the butter, the ass of the dairywoman and a smile from the dairyman!

  27. Alex says:

    Trust the Swiss to make it short, cute and totally beyond any non-local’s comprehension :)

  28. In Mandarin, we have 鱼与熊掌不可兼得 which literally translates to you can’t have both the fish and the bear paw.

  29. Anders says:

    Another swedish expression is "Inte för allt smör i Småland" (Not for all the butter in Småland). I have no idea where this comes from, but it’s a pretty common expression.

    Butter seems popular around the globe.

  30. Steve says:

    @The Royal Air Force

    Sorry old boy, don’t understand your banter!

  31. The Fiddler says:

    In greek: "και την πίτα ολάκερη και τον σκύλο χορτάτο" which translates as: "[you can’t have] the pie intact and the dog well-fed".

  32. Jim says:

    re: cake.  Reminds me of a Two Ronnies joke which went something like:

    "Scientists have developed a version of the Pill in bun form.  Now women can eat their cake and have it."

  33. Luke says:

    In the UK the the most famous butter phrase is actually a real product:

    "I can’t believe it’s not butter"‘t_Believe_It’s_Not_Butter

  34. Michael G says:

    In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the butter. Then when you get the butter, then you get the women.

  35. Krunch says:


    We have something similar in French:

    Avoir le cul dans le beurre.

    which translates to:

    To have the ass in the butter.

    which means "to be very lucky".

  36. MS says:

    It all reminds me of the guns and butter analogy in economics or economics.  You can only build so many guns (military spending) until you run out of money for personal luxuries.  (Or at least try telling Ronald Reagan that)

    But a favorite French idiom goes something like "la moutard me monte au nez" which literally means "the mustard is climbing up my nose" but figuratively means "I’m getting angry."  Approximately.  It has been a while.

  37. My grandfather frequently uses the phrase "You really landed with your butt in the butter!"

    From context, it’s clear he means this as a positive thing, like "you really lucked out!"

    For the life of me, I cannot think of a situation where you land with your butt in the butter, and that’s a good thing.

  38. Upon further reading of the comments, I see I’m at least the third person to mention "landing with your butt in the butter."

    Good to know it’s a Dutch/French phrase, even if it still makes no sense to me.

  39. Conchubhar says:

    In Irish:  "Is iomaí slí muc a mharú seachas a thachtadh le h-im."

    This means: There are more ways of killing a pig than by choking it with butter.

    This suggests you should look for a better way to do something!

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