During our recent stay in Cornwall, people who met George kept saying he looked like “butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth” …
Mummy was a little perplexed because the phrase seems to allude to a cool demeanour, i.e. so cold that butter wouldn’t melt. Yet the commentators were cooing over how cute, and how adorable George is and then would say, “butter wouldn’t melt ...”So Mummy went on the internet and investigated what that contradictory phrase really meant and where it came from. Sure enough it was confirmed as “one of the most misunderstood phrases in the English language.”The phrase was first noted in the 1500s and it was used directly relating to a person who was so cold that butter inside the mouth would not melt. (Dictionary.com) Over time, the meaning evolved and shifted to mean that the person being referred to was “prim and proper”, with a cool demeanour.In time, the “prim and proper” took on two different meanings, according to www.saywhydoi.com
- it could imply that the person referred to was phony, insincere and/or “liars”, putting on an act to fit into society. Oh no, not Hungarian refugee George!!!
- The other “prim and proper” nature denoted “sweet and innocent” especially amongst young women. Occasionally it is used to denote a quiet meekness and sweetness of temper or overly coy or demure. We think this is what was meant when referred to George.
So in short, the use of that phrase rightly confused Mummy.
The first and original meaning refers to a cold person, detached from emotions. So in reference to George, it seemed so wrong.And even after learning how the meaning had evolved, she still finds associating the phrase with “genuine sweet innocence” a bit of a stretch.
May’s comment: I must have had the most baffled look when all those who met George over the New Year weekend kept referring to his looks as “butter wouldn’t melt.”English may not be my first language but I sure can decipher when something doesn’t sound like how it’s meant. LOL!