Two choicest Idioms – Butter Up & As Mad As A Hatter

A few weeks ago my new book, Straight From The Horse’s Mouth was released in Paperback and Kindle formats and I have been waiting for it to work its way through onto Apple iBooks.   As it is now live, I thought I would post up two of the 101 idioms that make up Straight From The Horse’s Mouth.

The Idioms that we use every day reveal a rich heritage and history that lies just beneath the surface of the English language.    Some though have numerous origins that could very well leave one barking up the wrong tree!

Butter up.

Meaning: To lavish excessive praise on someone in order to make them more agreeable to a request.

Origin:  There are two possible origins for this commonly used phrase.  The most obvious one is the habit of making bread more attractive and palatable to eat by spreading butter on it.  A slice of stale bread may be unappealing but if you put enough butter on it then perhaps it is a little more tempting to eat.

The other origin is much older and dates back to ancient India when it was customary in some areas to throw balls of butter at statues of gods so that they grant you a small favour or forgiveness.

Both terms make sense, and it is possible that they developed independently of each other.  As with other sayings, it is also entirely possible that the British brought back the term from India in the 18th and 19th centuries and gave it new prominence in the English language.


My second idiom comes involves a famous character who shares my surname, Alice Liddell.  You may well be familiar with her the famous tale in which she stars, Alice In Wonderland.

Mad as a hatter.

Meaning: To be completely insane.

This Idiom seems to be insanely irreverent. Why on earth would a hatter be considered mad?   Some assume it is due to the memorable Mad Hatter character in Alice in Wonderland. In reality, it’s likely that the Mad Hatter was himself influenced by the older origins of the phrase.

Origin: Traditionally in the 18th and 19th century, mercury was used in felting and hat making.  We now know that mercury is highly toxic and the poisoning that hat makers suffered was a direct result of mercury poisoning.  Some of the milder symptoms included slurred speech, tremors, stumbling, and later in extreme cases, hallucinations

As Mad As A Hatter

As Mad As A Hatter – Just one of the many illustrations in Straight From The Horse’s Mouth, created by the talented Jo Robinson.


The meaning and origins of 100 common idioms or phrases are explained in this irreverent journey through the English language. This book takes you from the ancient world to the modern day and covers almost every aspect of life, it will open your eyes to the rich and fun heritage of the English language, maybe make you think twice but definitely raise a smile. ‘The writings on the wall’ though we don’t want to ‘blow our own trumpet’ so ‘keep your shirt on’, we’ll give you the ‘full monty’, ‘Warts and all’ lowdown on 100 of the most interesting Idioms. This isn’t a ‘damp squib’ that deserves to be ‘left on the shelf.’ and that’s ‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’!


Straight From The Horse’s Mouth is available from the UK in Kindle format from Amazon here and paperback format here.      American Amazon readers can squirm their way through the book in Kindle format here and in paperback format here.   As well as being available through Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Nook, you can also get in on the action on your favourite Apple product by purchasing the book on iBooks by clicking below!



About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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2 Responses to Two choicest Idioms – Butter Up & As Mad As A Hatter

  1. Just catching up on blogs, I know I’m very late reading this one, but I wanted to tell you that I’m putting the paperback copy of your book on my Christmas list. It sounds fascinating!


  2. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

    Liked by 1 person

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