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Brimstone butterfly


From Middle English brymston, brimston, bremston, forms of brinston, brenston, bernston, from Old English brynstān (brimstone, literally burn-stone), equivalent to brian +‎ stone, or burn +‎ stone. Cognate with Scots brunstane (brimstone), Icelandic brennisteinn (sulfur / sulphur, brimstone), German Bernstein (amber). Compare also brimfire. More at burn, stone.

Once a synonym for "sulfur", the word is now restricted to Biblical usage.



brimstone (countable and uncountable, plural brimstones)

  1. The sulfur of Hell; Hell, damnation.
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene:
      For griefe thereof, and diuelish despight, / From his infernall fournace forth he threw / Huge flames, that dimmed all the heauens light, / Enrold in duskish smoke and brimstone blew.
    • 1667, John Milton, Paradise Lost:
      Till, as a signal giv'n, th' uplifted Spear / Of their great Sultan waving to direct / Thir course, in even ballance down they light / On the firm brimstone, and fill all the Plain; / A multitude.
    • 1854, Charles Dickens, Hard Times:
      [W]hen he [the Devil] is aweary of vice, and aweary of virtue, used up as to brimstone, and used up as to bliss [...]
    • 1916, James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:
      But the sulphurous brimstone which burns in hell is a substance which is specially designed to burn for ever and for ever with unspeakable fury.
  2. (archaic) sulfur.
    • 1816, Walter Scott, The Antiquary:
      Weel I wot I wad be broken if I were to gie sic weight to the folk that come to buy our pepper and brimstone, and suchlike sweetmeats.
    • 1838, Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby:
      Don't think, young man, that we go to the expense of flower of brimstone and molasses, just to purify them.
  3. (obsolete) A whore.
    • 1763, James Boswell, edited by Gordon Turnbull, London Journal 1762-1763, Penguin, published 2014, page 237:
      I went to the park, picked up a low Brimstone, called myself a Barber, & agreed with her for Sixpence, went to the bottom of the park, arm in arm, & dipped my machine in the Canal […].
  4. (archaic) Used attributively as an intensifier in exclamations.
  5. The butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni of the Pieridae family.

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ Jespersen, Otto (1909) A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles (Sammlung germanischer Elementar- und Handbücher; 9)‎[1], volume I: Sounds and Spellings, London: George Allen & Unwin, published 1961, § 4.412, page 128.