How Did the Butterfly Get Its Name and What Does It Mean In Old English and Ancient Greek?

The word Butterfly is definitely not another word for “flutterby.”

what does the word butterfly mean

Butterfly comes from the Old English word buterfleoge, meaning “butter/flying creature.”

Some linguists speculate that maybe the buter refers to the butter-yellow color of some European butterflies. However, that doesn’t make a lot of sense; plenty of colors besides yellow are represented in the butterflies of the Old World.

The venerable Oxford English Dictionary, never one to shy away from a little scatology, points out that the Old English name was a translation from a Dutch word botervlieg that was synonymous with boterschijte, which means “butter shit”.

The speculation is that the butter in the name came from the butterflies’ oily yellow excrement, the result of a diet that consists largely of flower pollen.

The Russian word for “butterfly” means “bow tie” and the Ancient Greek word for “butterfly” is ψυχή, which primarily means “soul”, “mind”.

In some old cultures, butterflies also symbolize rebirth after being inside a cocoon for a period of time, and some people believe that when a butterfly lands on you it means good luck

Artistic depictions of butterflies have been used in many cultures including Egyptian hieroglyphs 3500 years ago. These days, butterflies are used widely in various art and jewelry.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

1 thought on “How Did the Butterfly Get Its Name and What Does It Mean In Old English and Ancient Greek?”

  1. Read the article it was interesting to know the speculations and some theory of how butterfly could have got its name. Just came into mind that butterflies may be the diet of people long ago and it must have tasted bitter so they must have named it “Bitterfly” which gradually transformed into “Butterfly”.

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