Why are butterflies called butterflies?

Do they have anything to do with butter?

Or is it something to do with the latin?

A darn good question.

For which, I have no answer.


I think they were called flutterbys, and there was a dyslexic person somewhere involved.


They tried faecesflies but it just didn’t catch on. Same with vomitflies.

Hm, the General Questions section is degenerating…

Even Michael Quinion of World Wide Words apparently does not know why, but the verbal association of butterflies with butter appears to be very old.

No. I apologise if I have mislead you in any way. :slight_smile:

They do appear to be named after butter - perhaps because one of the earliest-appearing species in northern Europe is the common brimstone - which is pale yellow in colour

From a root bat- indicating a movement:

English grassbat grasshopper
English to bate to beat the wings, flutter
English: Lancaster bat to beat
French batifoler to romp
French battre to beat, shake, etc.
English bat, also a moth; (verb) blink the eyes
German (regional) battervogel butterfly
English butterfly. For kinetic origin of this name, see OEHL, W. Misc. ling. dedicata a H. Schuchardt. Geneva, 1922, p. 104. No kin to “butter”

English: N Yorkshire bats dark specks which appear floating before the eye when the sight is impaired
French buter to hit; bouter to toss
Italian buttare Spanish botar to toss, throw

(English may be dialectal)

Oh ye of little faith. :slight_smile:

Even more interesting is that the word for “butterfly” in other languages typically do not have relationships to one another, even languages that are closely related:

French – “papillon”
Spanish - “mariposa”
Italian - “farfalla”
German - “Schmetterling”

There is some theory that these names are all onomatopoeic for the sound of the fluttering wings.


That sounds like the pasta farfalle

Which, interesting enough, is butterfly-shaped. And to think I used to call them bow-tie shapes.
mmmmm…insectalicious :stuck_out_tongue:

Actually, the German and the Eglish words share a common meaning.


The jump from cream to butter isn’t all that long.

This site also cites two theories as to the origin of the English word:

Yes so true, is that why, they are connected to butterflies?! wow cool!

Incidently they taste good too.

:confused: Do you spread them on crackers?

No?! I have them usually with tomato sauce and parmesan

The sound? Did you often listen to the fluttering wings of butterflies?

I looked in a French etymology dictionary, and despite being unable to clearly understand what was printed despite several reading, it seems the French word came from the word “pavillon” (flag) due to a similarity in shape, itself coming from a low Latin word for “tent” due to a similarity in shape, itself coming from a classical Latin word meaning…butterfly…, due, of course, to a similarity in shape.

No explanation about the origin of the Latin word. But my guess is that it came from an Indo-european word for “flag” due to a similarity in shape.

“Farfalla”, in Italian, might possibly be related to fairies, either from “farfarello” of Arabic origin, or a remote derivation of “fata”, of Latin origin.

Incidentally, I often wondered about the word “butterfly” (that, by the way, I do not like at all to refer to these beautifully winged insects), and I’m pleased someone asked.

Danish: sommerfugl (summer bird)