Butterflies are a favorite of children and adults alike.
Their bright colors, their fluttering wings, and the way they can change from being a caterpillar to a butterfly in just a few weeks are fascinating for many people who have never seen it before.
People’s fascination with butterflies aside, why do we call them butterflies?
Why Butterflies Are Called Butterflies
The word “butterfly” came from a combination of the Old English words buttor and fleoge.
Both of which were terms for similar-looking insects.
Butterfleoge is the combination that they came up with.
It meant: “a fly whose appearance is as if it had been buttered.”
This use of butterfleoge was eventually adapted into the word butterfly because of how similar butterflies were to other insects.
The term “butterfly” can be traced back as far as 1605 when it first appeared in the work of Edmund Bolton’s The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes.
Since that early appearance, the word butterfly has been in use to refer to members of this order.
The English term butterfly is similar to other languages’ words for them as well.
Butterfly in Different Languages
The French term papillon and the Spanish and Portuguese terms mariposa all mean “butterfly,” just like in English.
Even Chinese and Korean have their own terms for them, called 蝴蝶 (húdié) and 버터플라이 (beoteopeullai), respectively.
The reason why these similar-looking insects are all called butterflies is due to their resemblance to one another.
Brightly-colored scales make up the wings of the butterfly.
The way they flutter about when they fly is also very similar to one another.
It adds further support to the idea that these insects are related.
The word “butterfly” has become an icon for children due to its frequent appearance in popular media.
Children recognize them as colorful flying creatures, and many of them like to catch them and keep them in jars.
When referring to something cute or gentle, the first word that came to mind was the butterfly—it was that common of a term.
However, not all of them are butterflies.
Each of the 160 families has a different name.
For example, the Apatani people call them kope-yal, meaning “red insect.”
Meanwhile, in Argentina, mariposa de la tierra is how they call butterflies, which means “butterfly of the earth.”
This is just another example of how even though all of these insects may look almost exactly alike to the untrained eye, they are all different creatures.
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