Faire son beurre: A French expression you may hear today

Supermarket chain Monoprix has been accused of ‘making its butter’ from anti-police propaganda. We look at what this expression means…

14 September 2021

Learn French words and expressions you may hear in the news today Pic: The Connexion

Monoprix, one of France’s most popular food stores, has been caught in a controversy over offensive packaging on smoothie drinks.

German brand true fruits features the anti-police acronym ACAB (‘All Cops Are Bastards’) on one of its smoothie bottles.

After being publicly called out by the French police union Alliance Police Nationale for selling the drink, Monoprix announced via Twitter that they will be taking the “smoothie of shame” off their shelves.

Both true fruits and Monoprix have been accused in the French press of faire son beurre – making their butter – from spreading anti-police hatred.

To make one’s butter means to benefit from something, often financially.

It does not necessarily mean that the money has been made in a negative or ‘dodgy’ way, however; it can be used to denote any kind of money-making or profit.

The phrase dates to the 14th century when butter was viewed as a luxury product enjoyed mainly by the rich. For peasants, making butter would be considered a treat or perhaps moving up the ranks of society.

One of the earliest mentions of the expression is in 1821 in the Glossaire argotique des mots employés au bagne de Brest - a glossary of slang words and terms used in the Bagne de Brest prison.

Soon after, French writer Honoré de Balzac used the phrase in his 1842 novel Un début dans la vie (A Start in Life).

By then, the expression had cemented itself in the French language.

Curiously, however, before it became popular among the upper classes, butter was considered a peasant’s food during the Middle Ages.

The expression compter pour du beurre, which literally means to ‘count for butter’, is used to refer to someone or something with little value or which has been given little consideration. In English, this might translate as “to count for nothing”.

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