French Expression of the Day: Avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre

French phrase of the Day
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
In English this phrase involves cake, but in French it's always butter.

Why do I need to know the expression avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre? 

Because it’s the French equivalent of the English idiom, “You can’t have your cake and eat it,” which means a person cannot can’t enjoy both of two desirable but mutually exclusive alternatives. 

Alternatively, you might say ‘you can’t have it all ways’.

What does it mean? 

It literally translates as ‘to have the butter and the money for the butter’ …  and there’s an extended version – Avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre et le sourire de la crémière – to have the butter, the money for butter and the dairymaid’s smile. This denotes someone exceptionally greedy who really does want everything their own way (and yes, there is more than a hint that they might want more than a smile from the dairymaid).

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It’s believed to date back to France’s subsistence past, when families made a little money by selling butter churned from their cow’s milk. They could enjoy the butter, or the money from the selling it to buy something else – but not both.

More recently, we saw this phrase a lot during French media coverage of the Brexit negotiations.

Use it like this:

On ne peut pas avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre – You can’t have your cake and eat it

Si le Royaume-Uni souhaitait à la fois le Brexit et un accord de libre-échange, c’est qu’ils voulent “le beurre et l’argent du beurre” : ne plus payer le budget de l’UE, décider seuls tout en profitant des avantages du marché unique – If the United Kingdom wanted both Brexit and a free trade agreement, it is because they want to have it all ways: no longer paying the EU budget, deciding on their own while enjoying the benefits of the single market.

Member comments

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  1. Oh mon dieu! Verbe vouloir.
    Ils veulent (absolument pas ils voulent)

    Pls svp proofreading votre français est un must.
    I can do it. 💪

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