Butterfly - how did the name originate

Neil Jones Neil at nwjones.demon.co.uk
Sun Apr 19 13:45:16 EDT 1998

In message <6h0rie$o9i$1 at News.Dal.Ca> nospam at chebucto.ns.ca writes:
> The Brimstone origin seems first to have been published by S. Beaufoy in
> his book: Butterfly Lives. Collins. London (1947).
> Although its an interesting notion, historical research does not bear it
> out. The venerable OED says that the definitive origin of the name is
> unknown, however, it *may* have originated from the old Dutch
> _botershijte_ (meaning "butter-shit") referring to the appearance of its
> excrement. ;->
> Hardly as romantic as 'butter coloured fly', however, ...
> The development of the word is as follows:
> Old English (AD 700): buturfliogae, buturfliogo, & buterflege
>            (AD 1250): buterflige
> 	   (AD 1325): buterfleie
> Middle English:       botrefee
> Modern English:       butterfly

It may be that the writers of the OED are not familiar with lepidoptera
and that therefore they have missed an obvious explanation.
All those words you have listed are simply variations of butterfly.
The G at the ends of words in old English changed to a Y which is exactly
as you have shown. Compare the Dutch and Danish "dag" with the English equivalent
"day"( If I recall correctly the Danes don't pronounce the final "g" anyway)
 Alternatively there are German adjectives ending in a "G" where
the English has a "y"
The variations are probably due to dialects which were much more distinct then.

It wouldn't have been butter-coloured-fly anyway. We don't say rosy-coloured
marsh moth or Red-coloured Admiral.

Neil Jones- Neil at nwjones.demon.co.uk http://www.nwjones.demon.co.uk/
"At some point I had to stand up and be counted. Who speaks for the
butterflies?" Andrew Lees - The quotation on his memorial at Crymlyn Bog
National Nature Reserve

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