Nip it where?

Situation

While walking through a cafeteria earlier this week I overheard a woman say to another, “we have to nip it in the butt.” But I don’t think that was what she really meant.

Question

I shared this story with my wife during our New Year’s walk. She wondered how people can mangle expressions into peculiar combinations of words that make no sense. I had to admit that I use many expressions without understanding their origins or even, perhaps, their meanings.

Lesson

In the above expression, the correct location of the nipping is the “bud,” as in a plant’s — not the butt, as in someone’s behind.

“To nip a process in the bud is to stop it from flowering completely,” writes Paul Brians (in other words, before it develops into a larger, more difficult problem). “The hilariously mistaken ‘nip it in the butt’ suggests stimulation to action rather than stopping it.”

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