I was watching a former Watergate prosecutor interview on CNN and heard the following passage:

one of the things that the House Judiciary Committee, the House Intelligence Committee absolutely has to do is really button down whatever versions of this memo exist, whatever notes exist, they have to get all of the witnesses to the conversation in and make sure that they actually button down that what is represented there is the conversation

You may hear this passage here.

I looked button down in dictionaries but it doesn't seem to be a firmly established idiom. I googled it and also without success. I wonder if this phrase is a real idiom or I just misheard.

My understanding is that it can mean to ascertain or to pin down, but I want to know for sure.

  • 2
    `He meant pin down. People get confused when speaking off the cuff and often mistake one thing for another when talking fast. pins and buttons do collocate. They are stored in a similar mental bin. Even the teeniest mistake in a idiom can sound odd, like this one.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 30, 2019 at 22:24

2 Answers 2


You button down a piece of clothing to prevent it from falling open or flapping/flying around.

To me, it sounds like the speaker was mentally modelling the "versions of this memo" as something flying around and wanted to express doing something to keep them all together close in one place.

This may be less an idiom and more just a figurative use of button down which is more normally used with clothing or things that are worn.


I think he's mistakenly combining "pin down" (meaning find and figure out specifics, metaphorically fixing something in place with a pin) and "batten down" (meaning prepare for trouble, an idiom that was originally a nautical phrase)

...a “hatch” is a door of sorts that allows entrance to the lower levels of a boat or ship... made of metal bars for fresh air down below... To “batten down” the hatches is to secure tarpaulins over the gaps, blocking the spaces where water could flow in. When used as an expression in everyday life, it’s simply to prepare for something rough coming your way.

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