Beefing Up – Meaning, Origin and Usage

'Beefing up' or 'to beef up' are common English sayings that might be difficult to understand the context and meaning of, especially if you have never heard them before. This post unpacks the meaning, origin, and proper use of this sometimes baffling though very common saying.


The phrase 'beefing up' is a common figurative saying in the English language, which can be used to mean that something is being increased or upsized.

The phrase usually refers to the physical size of something, though can also sometimes be used to refer to something's capacity to hold weight or volume.

The phrase can be used as a statement, a response to something, or a question.

Something can be 'beefed up' or increased as practical use of the phrase.

Someone can also ask, 'are you going to beef that up, or what?' as an example nestled use of the expression.

'Beef' can be used to mean different things in the English language, including a disagreement or dispute, although refers to beef as a colloquial term for weight or size in the case of this saying.

The phrase 'beefing up' does not need to have anything to do with literal beef or meat when it is used, therefore the saying is a figurative one.

When the phrase 'not beefing up' is used as a saying, the expression implies the opposite or that something is not going to increase in size or capacity.

Example Usage

“Are you going to beef up this damn cheeseburger with some extra lettuce and cheese, or are you just going to serve us all that skinny thing?”

“Wow, the kid who played Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter has really beefed up since the series has ended.”

“If there's one thing you should do before you go to prison, it's probably beef up. I'll start buying you some of those great supplements, and best of luck, mom.”

“If you don't beef up, then you're probably going to be bullied at every chess tournament you would ever like to attend.”


According to the language resources, the phrase 'beef[ing] up' originated from college kids in the 1940s where the phrase came to mean 'adding strength' or increasing muscle tone.

Someone who was well-toned would 'beef up' or 'be beefing up', and the expression would later evolve to refer to physical size and weight of anything in general that is observed or said to be on the increase.

The phrase has been a figurative saying since its earliest use, as the saying has never meant literal beef or meat when used.

When something 'beefs up' then it is assumed that the size increase in question is a deliberate move.

The phrase 'beefing up' was first listed on the website Urban Dictionary from the year 2007, even though much earlier use of the saying can be seen.

Phrases Similar to Beefing Up

  • Upsizing

Phrases Opposite to Beefing Up

  • Belittling

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Beefing up
  • [To] beef up

Ways People May Say Beefing Up Incorrectly

There are several ways in which someone can misunderstand or misuse the phrase 'beefing up', including mishearings and mistranslations of the phrase that would change its meaning or render it pointless.

'Beefing up' usually refers to size or volume, and sometimes to physical mass (e.g. muscles).

Someone can mishear the phrase as different English words, including 'being up' which could lead to confusion.

The phrase is slang, and does not fit within most formal contexts.

The phrase cannot be used to say that someone 'beefs down'.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Beefing Up

There are several ways in which someone can use the phrase 'beefing up' in the right way.

The phrase 'beefing up' can be used to refer to a deliberate size, weight, or muscle mass increase in something. Context for the phrase is usually given or implied by the rest of the discussion.

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