butter fingers


butterfingers (noun)


  • a person who frequently drops things.
  • an informal and often humorous label for someone who is prone to accidental drops and spills.
  • a term used to describe clumsiness in handling objects, particularly in situations requiring dexterity.

Example Sentences

  1. Mark, our star receiver, turned into a butterfingers and dropped the ball at the crucial moment.
  2. She tried to balance the books, but her butterfingers made them tumble to the floor.
  3. His butterfingers make me nervous around glassware; he’s broken so many of them.
  4. In the kitchen, her butterfingers struck, sending a jar of sauce crashing down.
  5. During the presentation, his butter fingers fumbled with the remote, switching off the projector.

Origin and History

The idiom “butterfingers” originates from the combination of the words “butter” and “fingers,” creating a metaphor that suggests clumsiness, as if someone‚Äôs fingers were coated in slippery butter, making it difficult to hold onto objects. This vivid imagery humorously highlights a person’s tendency to drop things.

The term “butterfingered” also contributes to this idiom, describing a person who exhibits such clumsiness, further emphasizing the characteristic of having a slick, ineffective grip.

Charles Dickens’ Contribution

Charles Dickens, a renowned English novelist, is often associated with popularizing the term “butterfingers.” In his 1836 novel “The Pickwick Papers,” Dickens employed the term in a passage describing clumsiness. This literary usage introduced “butterfingers” as a humorous way to describe someone prone to dropping things.

Early Documentation

While Dickens’ usage is well documented, further research reveals earlier references to “butterfingers.” A notable discovery came from the Yorkshire newspaper The Leeds Intelligencer, dated May 1823, predating Dickens’ novel. This reference led researchers to delve deeper into historical texts.

Gervase Markham’s Contribution

Exploring older texts, linguists uncovered a reference in “The English Housewife,” written by Gervase Markham in 1615. Markham’s work provides evidence that “butterfingers” was in use centuries before Dickens, with a similar meaning of clumsiness.

Evolution in Sporting Contexts

Beyond literature, “butterfingers” found its way into sports vernacular, particularly in cricket. The term became a playful taunt for players who failed to make easy catches. Its usage extended to other ball-catching games, such as baseball in the United States, where it became associated with underperforming teams.

Contemporary Usage

Today, “butterfingers” remains a popular idiom in the English language, used to humorously describe someone’s tendency to drop things. While Dickens’ contribution is significant, the collaborative efforts of linguists have shed light on the extensive history and evolution of this colorful expression.

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