A w:brimstone butterflybrimstone butterfly. The word butterfly may have its origins in the name of yellow (or cream-coloured) butterflies such as this.



  • A flying insect of the order Lepidoptera, distinguished from moths by their diurnal activity and generally brighter colouring.
  • A use of surgical tape, cut into thin strips and placed across an open wound to hold it closed.
  • The butterfly stroke.
  • A sensation of excited anxiety felt in the stomach.
  • Someone seen as being unserious and (originally) dressed gaudily; someone flighty and unreliable.


  • To cut (food) almost entirely in half and spread the halves apart, in a shape suggesting the wings of a butterfly.
  • To cut strips of surgical tape or plasters into thin strips, and place across (a gaping wound) to close it.


Similar words


  • From Middle English buterflie, butturflye, boterflye, from Old English butorflēoge, buttorflēoge, buterflēoge (from butere), equivalent to butter + fly. Cognate with Dutch botervlieg, German Butterfliege ("butterfly"). The name may have originally been applied to butterflies of a yellowish color, and/or reflected a belief that butterflies ate milk and butter (compare German Molkendieb ("butterfly") and Low German Botterlicker ("butterfly")), or that they excreted a butter-like substance (compare Dutch boterschijte ("butterfly")). Compare also German Schmetterling from Schmetten, German Low German Bottervögel. More at butter, fly.
  • An alternate theory suggests that the first element may have originally been butor-, a mutation of bēatan.
  • Superseded non-native Middle English papilion borrowed from Old French papillon.

Modern English dictionary

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