Should You Say 'Nip It in the Bud' or 'Nip It in the Butt'?

The phrases “nip it in the bud” and “nip it in the butt” bring very different images to mind (one being more than a little painful). Only one is correct — and if you’ve been saying it wrong your whole life, the answer may surprise you.

Yellow rosebud with Nip it in the bud sentence Yellow rosebud with Nip it in the bud sentence
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Only Dogs Nip Things in the Butt

The correct wording is “nip it in the bud,” it's an idiom meaning “stop a problem before it gets bigger.” It comes from the gardening term that refers to pinching or clipping some of a plant’s buds to control the way it grows. Similarly, when we stop a problem from growing too big to manage, we’re figuratively “nipping it in the bud.”

So why do people say “nip it in the butt?” Probably because bud sounds a lot like butt, and butt is fun to say — after all, people tend to prefer the more recent (and possibly less correct) “butt naked” to the traditional “buck naked.” But both phrases are eggcorns, which sound correct but don’t look right when written down. And unless you're an angry little dog, you're probably not nipping too many butts.

It’s Also Not Nix

Some people even say “nix it in the bud (or butt)” because nix means “to put an end to something,” which has a very similar definition to the original idiom. But if you prefer nix, don’t add the budnix can stand on its own.

You Should Definitely Nip These in the Bud

Now that you know which version to use, make sure you’re using it correctly. Situations where gardeners and problem-solvers alike may find themselves nipping things in the bud include:

  • when a parent hears those first tell-tale squeaks of a kid jumping on a bed and runs to stop it (saving themselves a trip to the emergency room)

  • when you hear an untrue rumor circulating, and you stop it by telling the truth

  • when a police officer hears about a crime that’s about to happen, so they stake out the area to prevent it from happening

  • when you and your partner are about to have your weekly argument about where to go to dinner, so right away you offer an option you’ll both like

  • when a know-it-all dinner guest starts a conversation about politics, and everyone is quick to change the subject

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Use These Alternatives If It’s Too Confusing

If “nip it in the bud” just doesn’t make sense to you (or you still prefer butt), try out these idioms with similar meanings:

  • bring to a standstill

  • get out while the going’s good

  • knock out

  • put out a fire

  • put a kibosh on something

  • put it on the back burner

  • stop it in its tracks

Need To Get More Specific?

Want to say the same thing without resorting to idioms or cliches? Use these impressive words instead:

  • abey - to suspend or pause

  • abrogate - to formally cancel or do away with

  • cessate - to stop or end

  • extirpate - to completely destroy

  • quash - to put an end to

  • renege - to go back on a deal or agreement

  • vitiate - to invalidate