In Russian we have an idiom that translates to English literally as

  • To get more milk from your cow and spend less on food, you should feed your cow less and milk it more.

It's usually used sarcastically. Are there any similar idioms in English?

It's often used in job context when talking about poor management. In other words, I'd formulate this idiom as "Be as selfish and cruel as possible, even if it harms your own interests".

  • I understand the concept and the sarcasm but I can't see the context in which it would be used. Could you give an example of a conversation where someone would say this? What sort of statement or situation would cause someone to respond with this saying? Jul 11, 2015 at 9:11
  • @chasly from UK, it's often used in job context, for example when talking about overtime work.
    – user626528
    Jul 11, 2015 at 11:42
  • Make the most of what you've got. Or Squeeze 'em 'til the pips squeak. Jul 11, 2015 at 12:22
  • @user626528 this phrase is from the anecdote as Google shows. It is not common at all (162). If you say that without some context, no one will understand you in Russia, and people will think that you really meant a cow and milk, like your elves ))
    – user109460
    Jul 11, 2015 at 12:58
  • 2
    Not quite a match, but in the US corporate world there is "The beatings will continue until morale improves."
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 11, 2015 at 21:22

5 Answers 5


Not a literal translation, but a saying that describes a similar situation is:

"The beatings will continue until morale improves."

The expression describes a captain/boss who will be cruel to his subordinates until they improve their efforts, even though the cruelty will probably make the problem worse. (More on the origins of this phrase.)


Assuming Nikita's 2nd interpretation is what is meant, the nearest English equivalent I can think of is to have your cake and eat it - a really ridiculous statement on the surface (of course if you've got some cake you would expect to eat it, wouldn't you???). But what it means is, you can't still possess your cake and eat it as well. Once it is eaten it is gone. So it is used of a person who unfairly wants both sides of the bargain, ie get more milk form the cow but not spend more on food.

  • This doesn't necessarily have connotations of cruelty, but it can easily fit in a conversation on that topic. "I wish we could work the employees harder without paying them more..." "Hey! You can't have your cake and eat it!"
    – Caleb
    Jul 11, 2015 at 12:09

Is this statement used as in:

It is good to maximize the profit ?


is it meant as in try to be as selfish as you can and use others ?

There is a Dutch saying that goes:

"Voor een dubbeltje op de eerste rang willen zitten......."

that translates as:

"to want the very best seat in the front row but only want to spend 10 cents"

(old fashioned money so it means not euro but guilder cents - the value is about 5% of that of 1,-- euro)

The Dutch use this saying when people do not want to pay the right price for something or if you ask way too much compared to what you are willing to give That could also be the time that your willing to put into a project, the amount of effort that you are willing to put into something. So it is used when someone is too demanding.

  • Rather the second one. But I'd formulate it as "Be as selfish and cruel as possible, even if it harms your own interests".
    – user626528
    Jul 11, 2015 at 11:53

See Tom Au's answer (under-appreciated/voted in my opinion) to a question concerning the expression:

To milk it for all it's worth,

which means "to take all you can of value from something [exploit] while you have the chance to." (Linguaspectrum PLUS - British English Idioms)


While I don't know of a direct equivalent, at least two phrases spring to mind as being related.

The first is Killing the goose that lays the golden egg, and it seems a pretty good match. There is quite a Wikipedia article on it https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Goose_That_Laid_the_Golden_Eggs and the tale appears in several languages. It's obviously not a remotely smart thing to do in the long run.

A slight stretch would be Penny-wise and pound-foolish which refers to being short-sightedly economical, and not spending in the short run when doing so would give long-term benefits.

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