Grease the palm is a metaphorical way to describe bribing someone. So, if you thought it was an exotic moisturizer for your hands, think again. Want to go deeper into the oily origins of this phrase and its modern uses? I’ve got a lot to say about this popular idiom! Stick around; things are about to get slick!
What Does Grease the Palm Mean?
When people say to grease the palm, they’re referring to the physical act of bribing someone. It’s usually to gain their favor, access something you shouldn’t, or simply bend the rules. It’s that sly exchange of money or gifts, ensuring one’s objectives are met, sometimes under the table, always on the down-low.
Just think about any movie where a character slips a rolled-up bill into the hand of a maître d’ in hopes of getting a table at a fancy restaurant. That’s what greasing the palm looks like!
Origin and Etymology Behind Grease the Palm Idiom
Believe it or not, the oily idiom grease the palm has been slipping into conversations since the 16th century. However, it didn’t gain a ton of popularity until the 1800s. The word palm in the saying represents the hand, and grease represents money or a bribe. Together, they emphasize the hand-to-hand exchange of shady deals. You make the transaction smoother by greasing someone’s palm, just like how grease reduces friction. It’s a nifty visual, isn’t it?
Grease the Palm Synonyms
If grease the palm feels a tad too…greasy for you, try using these synonyms! Each term or phrase on this list can mean the same thing in certain contexts.
- Slip a bribe
- Pay under the table
- Butter up
- Slip a Benjamin
- Backhander (British slang)
- Line one’s pocket
Grease the Palm Idiom Sentence Examples
- I can’t believe Mike tried to grease the palm of the bouncer to skip the line to the club. This isn’t a movie!
- To expedite the important paperwork, some people in the office were tempted to grease officials’ palms.
- If you think you can grease my palm and get away with it, you’re sadly mistaken. I’m immovable.
- One of the hockey moms was caught greasing the palm of a referee during the championship.
- There’s a rumor that politicians in this region get their palms greased by local business owners.
- I won’t let anyone grease the palm of my employees. We stand for integrity.
- The contractor we hired—and fired—actually tried to grease the palm of the city inspector to pass his shoddy work.
- Back in the day, it was common for gangsters to grease the palms of the police and other local authorities.
- My grandfather made a fortune in the Klondike by greasing all the right palms.
- If you think greasing my palm will get you that publishing contract, think again.
From sneaky deals in dark alleys to metaphorical transactions, grease the palm is a timeless idiom that adds another layer of texture to our already beautiful language. Whenever you hear it, you’ll no longer imagine a spa day for your hands, just a secretive exchange of cold, hard cash. Read all my other quick guides on idioms and grammar tips right here on Grammarist!