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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, in Gordon Turnbull (ed.), London Journal 1762–1763, Penguin 2014, p. 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.
    • 1852, Charles Dickens, Bleak House:
      You are a brimstone pig. You're a head of swine!
    • 1852, Charles Dickens, Bleak House:
      You're a brimstone idiot.
    • 1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 7, in Mr. Pratt's Patients:
      I made a speaking trumpet of my hands and commenced to whoop “Ahoy!” and “Hello!” at the top of my lungs. […] The Colonel woke up, and, after asking what in brimstone was the matter, opened his mouth and roared “Hi!” and “Hello!” like the bull of Bashan.
  5. The butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni of the Pieridae family.

Derived terms[edit]