„Honestly, Alex, I don’t think that Harold in Purchasing
will like your new billing software concept too much.
You know how old fashioned he is…“
„I know; I’m a bit worried about his reaction myself.
Guess I’ll just have to butter him up.“
„How are you going to do that?
He doesn’t care about praise or anything like that.“
„Yeah, I know. But I heard he’s a big tennis fan and
my dad always gets extra U.S. Open tickets…“
„No way! That’s totally non-compliant!“
„But it might be helpful…“
In this extreme case, one employee wants to butter another colleague up (ihm Honig ums Maul schmieren) by bribing (bestechen) him with tickets to a tennis tournament. But to „butter someone up“ doesn’t always mean to do something illegal. Sometimes it just means doing favors or praising someone consistently, in order to get them to do what you want. It’s a form of persuasion (Überredungskunst) whereby you do something nice for someone, and they do something nice for you in return.
The origins of this metaphor are unclear. Some claim it comes from an ancient Hindu tradition of throwing balls of butter at statues of gods, in a form of sacrifice (Opfer bringen). Others believe that it is a metaphor comparing the physical act of smearing butter on bread to the metaphorical act of „smearing“ compliments on a person like butter. Or peanut butter. Or Nutella?