• butterfly •
bê-dêr-flai • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A nectar-feeding insect with two large, colorful wings, that transforms from a caterpillar while in a cocoon spun by the caterpillar. 2. A socially frivolous person.
Notes: This word may be used as a verb meaning "to slice almost in two and spread open and flat, to splay, spatchcock", as 'to butterfly pork medallions'. Remember to change the Y to I in the plural, butterflies.
In Play: Assuming we are all familiar with butterflies and know how to use the word, let's exemplify the verb: "Doug always butterflied his hotdogs because they cooked faster that way." Don't forget the figurative use of this word in the plural: "Fenwick always got butterflies in his stomach when he asked June McBride to marry him."
Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously a compound noun made up of butter + fly. The question is, what have butterflies to do with butter? The name may have arisen from the pale yellow appearance of the wings of certain European butterflies or from their supposed tendency to hover over butter or buttermilk. The most likely explanation is also the most unlikely: the folk belief that butterflies, or witches transformed into butterflies, steal butter or the milk that goes into churning butter. The question naturally arises from the reduction of the mass of milk to the smaller amount of butter the churn produces: where did the milk (or butter) go? We find support for this account in the regional names for butterflies. Think of Dutch dialectal boterheks, literally "butter witch", botervogel "butter bird", and boterwijf "butter wife". German regional words for "butterfly" are Butterhexe "butter witch" and Milchdieb "milk thief". (Now let's thank our long-time contributor Jackie Strauss, yet again, this time for today's obvious though mysterious Good Word.)
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