Who coined this phrase, and what is the meaning behind it?

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    I believe the real origin of the phrase is to be found in Papua New Guinea, where isolated tribes used to sell tickets to the frying of portions of human thigh or buttock on Sundays, as a neighbouring tribe would usually be prepared to pay some special seashells or sticks for a perfect sizzling performance if they'd failed to catch any humans themselves that week. Commented Mar 20, 2011 at 13:21
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    @Cerberus: I’ve always understood that it was a corruption of a gypsy phrase: when your horse slipped its tether and strayed from camp, you should keep the post you had tied it to, which could serve well again when you acquired a new horse, but get off your hands as quickly as possible the rope that had proved untrustworthy once and might again. Hence, “don’t sell the stake, sell the sisal.”
    – PLL
    Commented Mar 20, 2011 at 14:08
  • 5
    It's obviously a misreading of "Don't sell teh steak, sell teh shizzle."
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 20, 2011 at 15:05
  • 1
    @PLL: Haha, how you come up these things! Commented Mar 20, 2011 at 21:49
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    Ahhhhhh.....someone finally turned on the nitrous oxide...
    – user5531
    Commented Mar 21, 2011 at 2:07

4 Answers 4


This sales phrase was coined by Elmer Wheeler in the mid-1920s. It urged salespeople to focus on the experience around a product being sold rather than simply on the object itself. It means appealing to the senses and emotions of the buyer with the assumption that this is what motivates most people to purchase. It may be best put by Wheeler himself in this YouTube video.

  • 6
    And it follows that if a sales person starts talking about sizzle one should immediately be suspicious of the steak. Commented Mar 20, 2011 at 16:13

I don't know who coined it, but I understand the meaning to be: don't base your pitch on the properties of the product; talk about what it can do for the client and how it will make life better for them. In other words, don't talk about how the vacuum cleaner was made in Germany and incorporates the latest technology; tell the client he'll be able to vacuum the house in half the time and he'll never have to buy a replacement bag.


Sell the superficial aspects of the product; its shape, how people will perceive you with the product, how the product is perceived, not the actual substance of the product you are selling. So the response can be when trying to sell the sizzle, alone is..."where's the beef?"

  • Hi, welcome to ELU. Your answer requires some supporting information, i.e., some research you've done (with citation) that backs up your response. Also, in addition to meaning, the questioner is asking about phrase origin, so a successful answer should include information about the coining of this phrase as well as an explanation of its meaning.
    – freeling10
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 13:25

Sell the sizzle not the steak means you don't only sell the product but sell the idea behind it.

  • Not my downvote, but sizzle is not the idea behind the steak. It's more like the fancy UX which immediately attracts and appeals to people.
    – insanity
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 7:28

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