Butter bei die Fische

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Butter bei die Fische, literally: “butter with the fish” (plural). The same in Dutch boter bij de vis (with a similar, but not entirely identical meaning).

The idiom is grammatically peculiar because it uses the accusative case (die Fische) with the preposition bei, which is incorrect by contemporary standard rules. The phrase is from a German Low German source. In many German dialects, including Low German, bei can express location (with dative) but also movement (with accusative). Compare other German prepositions varying between dative and accusative in the same way, e.g. in, auf, etc.



Butter bei die Fische f

  1. (idiomatic, informal) talking turkey, cutting to the chase (request for honesty, frankness, and straightforwardness)
    Jetzt mal Butter bei die Fische: Hast du's gemacht oder nicht?
    Now be honest: Did you do it or not?
  2. (idiomatic, informal) rolling up one's sleeves, getting down to brass tacks (request for honest effort, extra effort, all or nothing)
    Kommt, Jungs! Gebt mal bisschen Butter bei die Fische und wir gewinnen das Spiel!
    Come on, guys! Give it a little extra effort and we'll win the match!