the word butterfly - reaction from Netherlands

doos at dop.dam doos at dop.dam
Tue Apr 28 06:34:47 EDT 1998

In article <6hvks9$2ds$1 at News.Dal.Ca>, nospam at says...
> doos at dop.dam writes:
> >Ernst, in Afrikaans we also use both `vlinder' and `mot' as above, but
> >butterflies are more usually called `skoenlappers'. I always thought
> >`skoenlapper' was also an original Dutch word, so I was suprised that you
> >did not mention it. Is the word, or something similar, known in Dutch ?
> I don't think that 'skoenlapper' is ever used in this sense in Ditch. It
> seems to be a uniquely Afrikaans creation. Incidentally this derives from:
> skoen = shoe
> lapper = patcher
> This 'skoenlapper' = cobbler !
> This is a very unique association (butterfly <--> cobbler) not paralleled
> in any other language that I am aware of. I have not been able to find any
> explanation of why this linguistic association might have been made. Are
> you aware of any theories?

In a reply to my post, sent to a lepidoptera list and not to this
newsgroup, Ernst Neering wrote:

"In the Netherlands only some 60 species of Rhopalocera are known, one of
most common species is the 'schoenlapper' also known as 'atalanta'. This
the Nymphalid Vanessa atalanta L. The word 'schoenlapper' means 'mender
shoes', which used to be a craft in the old days when recycling of shoes
more common. Maybe there is a relation with 'brushfoot'?"

So it seems that the name is known in Dutch. It's adoption for an African
species, and later all butterflies, by the African colonists parallels
what happened int he case of some other animals, too. Thus we have
`eland', the European elk, applied in Afrikaans to a uniquely African
antelope; `wolf' (the northern wolf) applied to hyaenas in general, etc.

John Irish
Nasionale Museum, Bloemfontein
john-irish at, there are too many ...'s)

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