Bum in the Butter

I’ve picked up some interesting expressions and slang from Jon and Cher who lived in Zimbabwe for 22 years where they picked up their Afrikaans, British, and Zimbabwean lingo: funny words like “skebenga” (Afrikaans for a low life thief), “Voetsek” (pronounced “footsack” – a very strong “get lost” sort of thing, used mostly with dogs), or the expression “Coke and Buns” (meaning that the event or restaurant is very low key, not fancy, basic).

Mkuki, Jon and Cher's Congolese Hunting Dog, landed with her bum in the butter when they adopted her from a pygmy in the Uturi Forest.

But my recent favorite, which I think we should spread around America (no pun intended), is “landed with his bum in the butter.” The meaning, according to Jon and Cher, is basically a good luck thing with a twist. You fall, but land in nice soft butter. (I said, “and then you can eat the butter!” and everyone, in unison, said “Eww!”) It’s where something bad might happen to you but it turns out good. Like your car breaking down in front of a nice resort and they let you stay there for free for a week while they fix your car. They refer to their Congolese Hunting Dog as “landing with her bum in the butter,” because they bought her from a pygmy in the jungle, and if she’d stayed there she would have had a horrible life of hunger, worms, diseases, and beatings.  She’s got a loving family, and is fat and happy now. She landed with her bum in the butter.

My British friend, Jane. Wouldn't you invite this girl to stay at your resort?

My life has many “bum in the butter” stories. My British friend, Jane, always says that amazing things happen when she travels with me. (She also says that she has more near-death experiences, but that’s another story.) One “bum in the butter” incident landed us at a private resort on a pristine island off the coast of Mozambique…for free. We were traveling on a dime, staying at the cheapest places possible, and wanted to get to the island to camp on the beach. There were only two resorts on the island, but of course, they were out of the question for us, and no regular boat service. We were directed to a white South African man, the manager of one of the resorts, who had a small boat heading back to the island the next day. We chatted with him for a while and then broached the subject of a lift to the island.  He looked us over, thought a bit, and then asked if we would like to come stay with him and his girlfriend at their resort, which was closed while they waited for the government to issue a liquor license. How could we refuse? We stayed in one of the beautiful bungalows, ate meals together and sundowners on the beach, all served by the staff of ten, and became friends. They didn’t ask for anything from us, and told us later that they rarely met travelers they liked enough to invite over. We stayed for three days before going back to our life of $5/night shabby rooms. We had landed with our bums in the butter for a few days.


  1. Terri (Hardeman) Turner 6 July 2010 at 7:48 am #

    Wow! You’re blessed with your bum in the butter!

    • Mary menhennet 7 August 2010 at 9:20 pm #

      As a South African that is just how I know it ….. suddenly life changes for the better and you say, …. landed with his/her bum in the butter. I have used the expression for years. If you say it to a pom they don’t know it and find it funny. I had a chocolate lab that was rehomed and I saw her shipped off and when I heard news of her, I used the expression. She met with another lab, went fish pond swimming and then for a long walk in the woods…. what a contrast for the better from her old controlled life.

      • lcadd 7 August 2010 at 10:27 pm #

        Ah! Finally someone else who uses this expression! It’s one of my favorites. Funny that you also used it with your dog.

        • Deb 14 September 2015 at 9:36 am #

          i grew up in Cape Town and my mom used to talk about someone who really annoyed her, as giving her the stone needle. Have never heard it anywhere else, but was reminded of it by your expression, giving her the stone zig.

  2. Fred Hatman 9 September 2010 at 9:22 am #

    I grew up in South Africa to a Yorkshire-born mother and Scots-born father and they pretty much talked in phrases and quaint sayings. My mum often told me I landed with my bum in the butter (accurately described on this blog). Another was “since Pa fell off the bus”… as in “I haven’t seen my cousin John since Pa fell off the bus”. Lovely. I would often be naughty and “end up in the dog box” (be in big trouble with authority). Many more… um, if you went out on a cold night without a jersey (jumper) on, you’d be warned that you would “catch your death”. My favourite… When my Mum got annoyed by somebody, she’d say “that woman gives me the stone zig”! The stone zig?! Where does that come from?

    • lcadd 9 September 2010 at 9:57 am #

      Thanks for that! I really love these expressions. We recently read “Tick Bite Fever” together about a white kid growing up in Kenya, and there were hundreds of expressions that my brother and sister-in-law had to explain to me. I think they are more white-African expressions than British.

  3. Jennifer Carter 26 September 2011 at 10:28 am #

    As a Zimbabwean, I used the expression ‘Coke and Buns’ differently. To me it meant that instead of ‘roughing it’ you had a comfortable situation, i.e. cokes and bun rather than biscuits and water. It was used a lot by park rangers who had to do patrols in the wild and sometimes had a softer billet.

    I’m with a cat rescue organisation and have recently fostered 3 kittens that definitely have fallen with their bums in the butter. Rory was found full of cat flu in a ditch. He would probably not have lived much longer. Now he is with an adoring family with 4 kids to play with, trees to climb and a choice of beds to sleep on at night. The other two have been adopted by a wealthy couple who will spoil them rotten, rather than living outside on a farm.

    Another expression was ‘That will be the frosty Friday!’ to indicate something that was most unlikely to happen. In Zimbabwe, frosty Fridays are quite uncommon – something I miss now that I live in England.

  4. Stuart 23 February 2015 at 12:40 am #

    Wow, what a small miracle. My wife and I were laughing at our Zimbabwean expressions like “bum in the butter”, so I wanted to check on the origin and this led me here to this site. Guess what? We know Jon and Cher. (Jon and I have the same career fields.) Although it has been some years since we met with them, we have subsequently left our home in Zimbabwe and now live in Hawaii.
    Where ever you are Jon, I hope you have managed to find some biltong.

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  2. […] just about everything that I’ve wanted in my life. In South Africa they’d say that I’d ’landed with my bum in the butter’ . How this could be positive, is still quite strange to me. Well imagine this; me skidding along on […]

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