Avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre

Avoir le beurre
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French Proverb

Meaning to have one’s cake and eat it, too
Literally to have the butter and the money from (selling) the butter
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Pronunciation [ah vwar leu beu ray lar zha(n) du beur]
IPA   [a vwaʁ lə bœʁ e laʁ ʒã dy bœʁ] 

Usage notes: The French proverb avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre is easy to understand – you can either keep the butter for yourself, or you can sell the butter, but you can’t do both. In other words, you have to make a choice between two mutually exclusive things.

Strangely, avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre isn’t listed in Le Grand Robert (CD-ROM v 2.0, 2005) though it is in Le Petit Robert.

Par exemple…

Thierry, fais un choix. Tu ne peux pas avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre !   Thierry, make a choice. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too!

Variations

  • garder le beurre et l’argent du beurre (to keep the butter …)
  • obtenir le beurre et l’argent du beurre (to obtain …)
  • réclamer le beurre et l’argent du beurre (to claim …)
  • vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre (to want …)

Informal variations

  • vouloir le beurre, l’argent du beurre et le sourire de la crémière (par-dessus le marché)
  • vouloir le beurre, l’argent du beurre et la crémière
  • vouloir le beurre, l’argent du beurre et la fille du crémier
  • vouloir le beurre, l’argent du beurre et le cul de la crémière (vulgar)

 Interestingly, in old-fashioned French slang, beurre used to mean “money,” kind of like “dough” or “cheddar” in English (perhaps only American English?)

 Related lesson

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3 Responses

  1. Bernard Duffy 13 May 2017 / 11:08

    Strictly, the original English expression was “you cannot eat your cake and have it, too.” Thus, you could not do two mutually incompatible things. Over time, this changed to “you cannot have your cake and eat it, too” which is a more ambiguous expression. Non-native English speakers have misconstrued this as some kind of English repression that forbade you to consume the cake (i.e. a form of self-denial).

    In French, I always understood the expression as meaning either that you had the butter or the money that you intended to use to buy the butter. You could not have both. Not many people would be involved in selling butter but almost everyone was a consumer of butter.

    However, the two ways of expressing the same idea in the different languages show a very different mindset. French uses an everyday commodity; whereas English uses a luxury item. Isn’t it fascinating to see how much can be revealed about the different cultures by such a short expression?

    • lkl 13 May 2017 / 11:12

      Interesting… I’ve never heard that the original English expression was different, nor about the suppposed repression. But I definitely agree with your last paragraph! 🙂

  2. croissant 12 May 2017 / 17:08

    Another expression with “beurre”: Cela met du beurre dans les épinards – it brings in some money, it helps to improve things financially.