This is a stanza from Ruskin Bond's poem If Mice Could Roar:

If tortoise could run
And losses be won
And bullies be buttered on toast

I can't understand the phrase bullies be buttered on toast.

By the way, in another stanza of the same poem:

If pebbles could sing
And bells never ring
And teachers were lost in the post;

What is the meaning of post in this context?

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    Not an idiom (Australian English). It means soft enough to be spread on toast like butter. – Peter Aug 27 '20 at 5:26
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    I have to admit, as a UK English speaer, I did not initially understand the intended meaning - I had visions of mushrooms covered in melted butter on a slice of toast. However, now I've seen the spreadable explanation I do think it's a very expressive phrase, and I look forward to using it myself! – djna Aug 27 '20 at 7:44
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    Post in this context is a synonym for mail. Quite common, though perhaps more of a British English usage than US. But we have for instance the post office, the official name is the "United States Postal Service", and so on. Though amusingly, the corresponding British agency is the Royal Mail :-) – jamesqf Aug 27 '20 at 16:22
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    This site works best if you stick to one question per page, rather than editing extra questions on the end, particularly after you already have answers to your original question. – IMSoP Aug 27 '20 at 19:32

I found an answer on brainly.in that describes it as:

Usually a bully is arrogant and dominating. The poet wishes that if a bully could become softer and more compatible with others, just as butter on toast.

There's no idiom "buttered on toast" and I'm a native American English speaker. However, in the context of poetry there is often significant creative freedom in the words chosen and used.

  • What is the meaning of "post" in the third stanza? – user100323 Aug 27 '20 at 9:43
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    @user100323 likely means the mail – BruceWayne Aug 27 '20 at 13:00
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    lost in the post (or lost in the mail) is a common idiom meaning lost by the postal service and dissapearing from the face of the earth. it is evedent that this poet did not enjoy school. – Jasen Aug 28 '20 at 13:29

There is an idiom "to butter someone up"

to please someone, so that that person will do what you want them to do.

The metaphor is that putting butter on something makes it less dry and easier to eat.

This is extended, as butter on toast becomes warm and soft. The poet is inventing a metaphor that suggests "if bullies could become soft and would do what we want them to do just by being nice to them".

"Lost in the post" when talking about a letter means it was sent but never arrived. It is sometimes used an excuse: "No I didn't do the task, I never received your instruction, the letter must have got lost in the post." This figuratively means "teachers don't come and interrupt my play with their boring lessons". Similarly "bells never ring" refers to the bell that is rung at the end of break time when the pupils have to return to the classroom.

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    I think you're close, but it's not an invented metaphor, just a somewhat archaic use of the verb "butter". Things are muddled by the awkward punning, but "to butter" in this context means "to make someone agreeable by flattery". – Xerxes Aug 27 '20 at 16:45
  • @Xerxes it's a poem, so it can be both. Most of the last lines seem to be hints at other phrases - 'grow up', 'teaching post', 'butter up' as well as fancies. – Pete Kirkham Aug 28 '20 at 22:57

There is no idiom butter on toast, but there is the established phrase in Britan hot buttered toast, which I think the poem riffs on.

The post is still, I think, the most common term in Britain for what elsewhere might be called the mail. (Think of "the Post Office", even in the US)

I tried searching corpora to justify that, but it' a bit difficult, because post is now in wide use to mean a post on an internet site. But on the GloWbE corpus in the post to you has 15 instances in British sources and 1 in US; while in the mail to you has 5 US and 1 GB.

Edit: I then thought of searching for "lost in the post|mail", and that gives a clear difference. enter image description here

  • So "teachers were lost in the post" means "teachers were busy in the post office"? – user100323 Aug 27 '20 at 10:10
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    No. Teachers were lost in the post can't be taken literally. lost in the post literally means never delivered, and here must mean went missing, never arrived. – Colin Fine Aug 27 '20 at 10:13
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    @user100323 As well as the literal meaning, "lost in the post" can mean that something has disappeared without any reason why, but nobody is going to make any effort to find it again. In other words "there are no teachers any more, and nobody cares what happened to them." – alephzero Aug 27 '20 at 19:02

"Butter on toast" isn't exactly an idiom, but butter is often used in similes and metaphors to describe something as soft, smooth, or meltable. Your example though says "buttered on toast". To butter means to spread butter, usually on bread or toast, so "[if] bullies [could] be buttered on toast" is imagining that bullies could be spread as if they were soft as butter. A bully is often spoken of as a "tough" or "hard" person, so to wish they were soft is the opposite.

"Lost in the post" means lost in the mail. In British English, we usually say "post" (postman, post service etc), whereas in American English they say "mail". THe poet appears to be wishing that school teachers would disappear without trace, as if lost in the mail.


I believe the general idea of the poem is to focus on why things are the way they are through counter-factuals. The general form being: if thing wasn't thing then we wouldn't have thing. For example: if a bell didn't ring would it actually be a bell? Isn't that the essence of what a bell is? Or with the losses line: if a loss was a win it wouldn't be a loss. It's a tautology. If a bell didn't ring it wouldn't be a bell.

Finally: why are bullies a problem? Well if bullies didn't bully we wouldn't have a problem with bullies. The fact that they don't melt like butter (meaning: be warm and caring to others) but are instead cold and hard is the entire problem! It's the essence of the idea of a bully, taking it (the hardness and coldness of bullies) away means changing the definition and conception of the word itself.

The post line almost certainly is talking about mail but I'm not entirely sure the exact meaning the author intended with it. It might be about teachers who refuse to admit they are incorrect (instead they should admit on some questions they are 'lost in the post' or 'out to sea'), but I feel it's a stretch. I doubt the author intends it to mean what if teachers don't exist? because that would seem to clash with the final line of "this world would be better than most."

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