verb (used with object)

Verb Phrases

butter up, Informal. to flatter someone in order to gain a favor: He suspected that they were buttering him up when everyone suddenly started being nice to him.

Origin of butter

before 1000; Middle English; Old English butere < Latin būtȳrum < Greek boútȳron
Related formsbut·ter·less, adjectivebut·ter·like, adjectiveun·but·tered, adjective
Can be confusedbudder butter
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

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Contemporary Examples of butter

Historical Examples of butter

British Dictionary definitions for butter



  1. an edible fatty whitish-yellow solid made from cream by churning, for cooking and table use
  2. (as modifier)butter icing Related adjective: butyraceous
any substance with a butter-like consistency, such as peanut butter or vegetable butter
look as if butter wouldn't melt in one's mouth to look innocent, although probably not so

verb (tr)

to put butter on or in
to flatter
See also butter up

Word Origin for butter

Old English butere, from Latin būtyrum, from Greek bouturon, from bous cow + turos cheese
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for butter

Old English butere "butter," general West Germanic (cf. Old Frisian, Old High German butera, German Butter, Dutch boter), an early loan-word from Latin butyrum "butter" (source of Italian burro, Old French burre, French beurre), from Greek boutyron, perhaps literally "cow-cheese," from bous "ox, cow" (see cow (n.)) + tyros "cheese;" but this might be a folk etymology of a Scythian word.

The product was used from an early date in India, Iran and northern Europe, but not in ancient Greece and Rome. Herodotus described it (along with cannabis) among the oddities of the Scythians. Butter-knife attested from 1818.


Old English buterian "spread butter on," from the same source as butter (n.). Figurative meaning "to flatter lavishly" is by 1798 (with up (adv.), in Connelly's Spanish-English dictionary, p.413). Related: Buttered; buttering.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Medicine definitions for butter




A soft yellowish or whitish emulsion of butterfat, water, air, and sometimes salt, churned from milk or cream and processed for use in cooking and as a food.
A soft solid having at room temperature a consistency like that of butter.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with butter


In addition to the idioms beginning with butter

  • butter up
  • butter wouldn't melt in one's mouth

also see:

  • bread and butter
  • bread-and-butter letter
  • know which side of bread is buttered
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.