Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group.


Suddenly the noise and motion cease, and the butterflies drop dead.

All my sorrows were at once dispersed like a cloud of butterflies.

The dew in the meadows and the pearls on the wings of butterflies began to glisten.

I have frequently tried the experiment with flies and butterflies.

This was also the case in general with spiders, flies, and butterflies.

These butterflies knew well that it was only a gleam of sunshine, not a summer.

I used to run all about, chase the butterflies and everything else that came in my way.

They are as gay as butterflies in their dress, but their looks are very solemn.

And did you know that butterflies could sing like little birds?

"Aw, Ma, I want to stay up with my butterflies," the boy pleaded.


Old English buttorfleoge, evidently butter (n.) + fly (n.), but of obscure signification. Perhaps based on the old notion that the insects (or witches disguised as butterflies) consume butter or milk that is left uncovered. Or, less creatively, simply because the pale yellow color of many species' wings suggests the color of butter. Another theory connects it to the color of the insect's excrement, based on Dutch cognate boterschijte. An overview of words for "butterfly" in various languages can be found here. Also see papillon.

Applied to persons from c.1600, originally in reference to vain and gaudy attire; by 1806 in reference to transformation from early lowly state; in reference to flitting tendencies by 1873. The swimming stroke so called from 1936. Butterflies "light stomach spasms caused by anxiety" is from 1908.


Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group.