the word butterfly - reaction from Netherlands

Ernst.Neering at STAFF.TPE.WAU.NL Ernst.Neering at STAFF.TPE.WAU.NL
Mon Apr 20 08:46:50 EDT 1998

It seems the name 'butterfly' has developed on its own in the english 
language area. Reference to words like 'boterschijt' in dutch te me does not 
make sense. The Concise Oxford Dictionary mentions butterfleoge as possible 
origin and refers to the dutch 'botervlieg' which to me also is nonsense.

In dutch we use the word 'vlinder'. Old dutch publications refer to 
'kapellen' (for instance Cramer, Sepp, Maria Sybilla Merian), which is still 
used sometimes in poems etc. For Heterocera we use the word 'mot' which is 
clearly of the same origin as the english 'moth'. Should we now conclude that 
'moth' is derived from 'mother'????

The current words in some european languages are:
		Rhopalocera		Heterocera
English		Butterfly		Moth
German		Schmetterling, Falter	Motte
Dutch		Vlinder, Kapel		Mot
French		Papillon		Teigne
Spanish		Mariposa		Polilla

It is understandable that the conspicuous Rhopalocera have led to local / 
national / within-language-area development of a name, while for Heterocera 
there was no need and at least in english, dutch and german the names are so 
clearly related that a single word as origin is obvious.

It is funny that now a discussion on 'butterfly' has come up. When I 
commented some time ago on the use of the word 'bug' for Heteroptera only, 
many people reacted that it should be allowed to use the word as a general 
name for small creatures! I wonder why the english speaking world has 
deviated from the use of 'fly' in this respect. There are so many of them: 
not only butter- but also caddis-, dragon-, stone-, lantern-, and probably 
many more types of untrue flies. The only word I can think of now in which 
'bug' is used is pillbug.

In dutch, derived from the word 'vlinder', the verb 'vlinderen' is used for 
people who just do what they like and this verb can be compared to the 
english word 'fluttering'. In german 'falter' is used, while people showing 
the 'vlinderen' behiour are said to be 'flatterhaft'. You can see the 
relation: vlinder- falter - flatter with flutter!. Is there a word 
'butterflying' that is comparable to this? Or is that 'flutterbying'?

In dutch we also have the word 'nachtvlinders' (nightbutterflies) which 
biologically should be translated as 'moths' but which has a completely 
different meaning. It is the same as the german 'Nachtfalter' and relates to 
a special form of Homo sapiens which is active at night under a colour of 
light which is invisible to insects.

Relations of the word 'butterfly' with butter or any other foodsource is 
unlikely. When Lepidoptera are consumed by humans, it is only the juvinile 
stages (caterpillar or the pupa/chrysalis) that are eaten. Yet you english 
speaking people talk about 'butterflies in your stomach'.....

Regards from a dutchman,

Ernst Neering

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