Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre

Butter

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to the culinary world. Read the introductory Edible Idiom post, and browse the list of French idioms featured so far.

As a foreword, I’d like to note that, in response to reader Ellen’s suggestion, the Edible Idioms are now served with an audio file embedded in the post, allowing you to listen to the pronunciation of the idiom and the example sentence. If you wish to go back and browse the archives, all past idioms have been updated to include this read-aloud.

This week’s idiom is, “Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre.”

Literally translated as, “wanting the butter and the money for the butter,” it expresses an unreasonable or unrealistic desire to have it all, or to have it both ways in a situation that normally requires a choice between two mutually exclusive options. It is similar to the (also edible) English idiom, having one’s cake and eating it, too.

Example: “Les gens veulent une bonne couverture mobile, mais ne veulent pas d’antennes près de chez eux. Malheureusement, on ne peut pas avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre.” “People want good cell phone coverage, but they don’t want antennas near their homes. Unfortunately, you can’t have the butter and the money for the butter.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

This expression, which appeared in the twentieth century, refers to someone who’s going out to buy some butter, and expects to come home with the butter and the same amount of money in his pocket.

A humorous variation goes, “vouloir le beurre, l’argent du beurre et le sourire de la crémière — wanting the butter, the money for the butter, and the dairymaid’s smile. Other, mildly bawdy versions claim a little more from the dairymaid that just her smile; you’ll recognize them when you see them.

Note that le beurre (butter) is also, in other instances, slang for money, as in “faire son beurre” (making one’s butter), which means making money.

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  • In Italian we have a very similar one but it goes as follow:
    “Volere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca” which translates into: “Wanting the barrel full and the wife drunk”

  • Love the audio file addition! Thanks!

  • Great addition to the series. My pronunciation it atrocious, this is a huge help.

  • These are always so interesting Clotilde! I love the audio file too.

  • What a great idea to add audio. Kudos to you and to Ellen for suggesting it!

  • Ellen

    This is awesome. Thank you!

  • Alix

    Now this one messed me up, because I was reading it as “butter and silver butter (or butter made out of silver).” Clotilde, can you tell us why it’s not “pour” le beurre?

    Which reminds me, someday I must ask you to explain how/when you use a/aux, de/du/des and avec in recipe names. I keep trying to spot some hidden pattern, but so far they just confound me! I should’ve paid more attention in high school…

  • Caro K

    So interesting! The butter/money connection feels very intuitive–I wonder if it’s that gorgeous gold color?

    In Rouen, one of the (15th century) towers of the cathedral is La Tour du beurre. Apparently, its construction was paid for by the sale of indulgences (official pardons) to Catholics who wished to eat butter during Lent, a time when the observant were expected to cut back on such pleasures.

    As an aside, that’s the reason that buttery crepes are served on Mardi Gras–it would have been the last chance for butter until Easter. See here. Unless you lived in a town that was trying to get a cathedral built!

  • Alix

    Oh, and the audio is awesome!!!

  • lindaust

    Clotilde the audio is a great addition to the site … yet another reason to visit! Mille merci!

  • Amy

    Loving this one (and feeling it too). Aren’t we all these days? Thanks for sharing!

  • Dani

    I’ve been reading your blog for only a few months but really enjoy it. Thanks for taking the time to do the audio file! It is really helpful for us students of the French language.

  • Clothilde,
    you are immsensely generous!
    I love reading this series about Frenchs idiomatic expressions, and the addition of audio makes it one of the most entertaining French lessons ever! Thanking for taking the time to research and share your knowledge with us. Even I may learn proper French thanks to you (I don’t even want to begin to write about how much I enjoy your recipes, going back to I don’t remember how long: could well be centuries!) :-)
    Merci and enjoy the next few days, while butter’s still on the table!

  • Alix: it’s “argent du beurre” as in “the money that comes from selling the butter”. “De/du/des/de la” are used in French to indicate the origin of something, whether geographical or other.

    I suppose “silver butter” would be translated as “beurre d’argent”, though (thankfully) there is no such thing…

  • Linzi

    Hey Clotilde.. have been reading your blog for a while now… but have just moved to Australia and am missing France (and its beautiful food) more than ever…. we used to live in Hossegor and I keep transporting myself back there in my mind… what i would do for a good confit de canard !!
    your edible idioms remind me of something my french grandma says…. ‘ca met du beurre dans les epinards’, it always makes me smile..thanks for your amazing words and recipes… a plus x

  • Alix and Jenny – I’ve personally always understood l’argent du beurre as the money you’ve set aside to buy the butter (a construction that’s also used for l’argent du pain) so I always placed the idiom from the perspective of the buyer (which makes sense with the dairymaid variation), but it works both ways.

  • I can’t help but to giggle; it is very cute!

  • Thanks for the audio – what a sweet addition!

  • Noah

    I’d never heard the ‘sourire’ version… the one I heard was a bit further south!

  • Yes, I think we all feel that way sometimes. But I try to be happy when I have the money to buy the butter, to put on the toast, to bake the cookies, to melt over popcorn. Mmmmmm…

  • I love having the audio too!! Just had to say again how much I enjoy these “edible idioms”!

  • Love these little tidbits.

  • I like this saying much better than “having your cake and eating it too.” What good does having a cake if you can’t eat it?

  • I have seen it asserted that the English version was originally, or should really be, the other way round: you can’t eat your cake and expect still to have it. Just like the butter.

  • Do you know the English idiom’s become inverted, in the original the sentiment it conveys makes more sense. Originally, “to eat one’s cake, and have it” meant the unreasonable or impossible outcome of eating your cake, and still have it after – as if it magically regenerated so you could eat it endlessly.

    Might heaven or hell depending on one’s point of view and desired dress size!
    ;-)

  • we have a really similar saying in Hindi – ‘aam to aam, guthliyon ke daam’, meaning not just the mangoes, you get money for the seed too. It’s used both when someone gets an unexpected bonus and when someone gets greedy for more of anything

  • was just reading the lyrics for Camille’s ‘Ta Douleur’ (current obsession), happened upon this expression, and knew what she was talking about thanks to you and this post! merci, and greetings from los angeles =)

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