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A butterfly.
A brimstone butterfly. The word butterfly may have its origins in the name of yellow (or cream-coloured) butterflies such as this.


From Middle English buterflie, butturflye, boterflye, from Old English butorflēoge, buttorflēoge, buterflēoge. Cognate with Dutch botervlieg, German Butterfliege ‎(butterfly).

Perhaps a compound of butor- 'beater', mutation of bēatan 'to beat', and flēoge 'fly'.[1] More at beat and fly.

Alternate etymology connects the first element to butere ‎(butter), as the name may have originally been applied solely to butterflies of a yellowish color. This may have merged later with the belief that butterflies ate milk and butter (compare: German Molkendieb and Low German Botterlicker ‎(butterfly, literally butter-licker)), or that they excreted a butter-like substance (compare: Dutch boterschijt ‎(butterfly, literally butter-shitter)). More at butter, fly.



butterfly ‎(plural butterflies)

  1. A flying insect of the order Lepidoptera, distinguished from moths by their diurnal activity and generally brighter colouring. [from 11th c.]
  2. (now rare) Someone seen as being unserious and (originally) dressed gaudily; someone flighty and unreliable. [from 17th c.]
    • 1897, Henry James, What Maisie Knew:
      The day came indeed when her breathless auditors learnt from her in bewilderment that what ailed him was that he was, alas, simply not serious. Maisie wept on Mrs. Wix's bosom after hearing that Sir Claude was a butterfly [...].
  3. The butterfly stroke. [from 20th c.]
  4. A use of surgical tape, cut into thin strips and placed across an open wound to hold it closed.
    butterfly tape


Derived terms[edit]


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butterfly ‎(third-person singular simple present butterflies, present participle butterflying, simple past and past participle butterflied)

  1. To cut almost entirely in half and spread the halves apart, in a shape suggesting the wings of a butterfly.
    butterflied shrimp
    Butterfly the chicken before you grill it.
  2. To cut strips of surgical tape or plasters into thin strips, and place across a gaping wound to close it.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Donald A. Ringe, A Linguistic History of English: From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic (Oxford: Oxford, 2003), 232.



butterfly c (singular definite butterflyen, plural indefinite butterfly)

  1. bowtie