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Alternative forms[edit]


Originally buttonhold (a loop of string to hold a button down), but changed by folk etymology by influence of hole; see the Wikipedia article on folk etymology


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buttonhole (plural buttonholes)

  1. A hole through which a button is pushed to secure a garment or some part of one.
  2. (chiefly Britain) A flower worn in a buttonhole for decoration.
    Synonym: boutonniere
    1. (attributive) So shaped that it can be worn on a buttonhole or it is similar to a buttonhole.
  3. (surgery) A small slot-like cut or incision, made for example by an accident with the scalpel.
    • 2011, George L. Spaeth, Helen Danesh-Meyer, Ivan Goldberg, Ophthalmic Surgery: Principles and Practice E-Book (page 220)
      The usual cause of conjunctival buttonholes is penetration of the tissue by the tip of a sharp instrument []
  4. The mouth and/or nose and/or eyes if appearing tiny.
  5. (obsolete) vagina, coin slot.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:vagina
  6. (lightly vulgar) anus, batty hole.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:anus



buttonhole (third-person singular simple present buttonholes, present participle buttonholing, simple past and past participle buttonholed)

  1. (transitive, colloquial) To detain (a person) in conversation against their will.
    Synonyms: accost, waylay
    • 1880, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], chapter 26, in A Tramp Abroad; [], Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company; London: Chatto & Windus, →OCLC:
      He backed Mr. Lykins against an iron fence, buttonholed him, fastened him with his eye, like the Ancient Mariner, and proceeded to unfold his narrative as placidly and peacefully as if we were all stretched comfortably in a blossomy summer meadow instead of being persecuted by a wintry midnight tempest:
    • 1936 June 30, Margaret Mitchell, chapter 50, in Gone with the Wind, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, →OCLC; republished New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, 1944, →OCLC, part V, page 890:
      He buttonholed people on the street and related details of his child’s miraculous progress without even prefacing his remarks with the hypocritical but polite: “I know everyone thinks their own child is smart but—”
    • 2004, Philip Roth, The Plot Against America:
      Here they are, the brainless few we had been raised to pity and fear, the Stone Age oafs and the seething runts and the ominous, swaggering weightlifters, buttonholing kids like me out on Chancellor Avenue and telling us to keep our baseball bats at the ready in case we were called in the night to take to the streets [...]
  2. (transitive, intransitive) To cut one or more buttonholes (in).
  3. (transitive) To sew by buttonhole stitch.
  4. (transitive, surgery, chiefly archaic) To make a small slot-like incision in (intentionally or unintentionally).
  5. (transitive, rare) To apply a flowery formation in.
    • 1871 December 17, Henry K. Staley, “Forestry and Apiculture”, in The American Bee Journal[1], volume 28, number 25, page 781b of 779a–782b:
      What tree of more pulchritude and symmetricalness could you nominate for roadside, street and public park planting than the graceful linden? We should possess more of the spirit which predominates in this direction in the crowning gem of America’s constitutionality—the City of Washington, D. C. ‘‘Unter den Lindens’’ would not only be found in Germany, but in all the large cities of our grand and glorious United States. Washington has her Unter den Linden in the Massachussetts[sic] avenue. Her North and South Capital streets are buttonholed with the stately tulips, which are fit emblems to thus adorn the meridian of the United States.
  6. (intransitive, archaic, rare) To attain buttonhole-like formations on cutting.
    • 1927, Warwick Deeping, Doomsday, page 77:
      Furze cut it himself after his dinner, with great care and concentrated solemnity, finding the loaf rather too new and the knife too blunt for the carving of slices of ideal thinness. The beastly things would buttonhole!

Derived terms[edit]