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Where did the Word Butterfly Come From?

Millie

Millie is a British writer and translator living and working in Greece. She writes about etymology on Jump! Mag and on Glossologics, and shares her children’s stories on Kidscapers.

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Millie explained recently what etymology means, and fitting to this week’s theme of Jump! Into Biology, we are are asking ‘where did the word butterfly come from?’.
Who hasn’t seen a butterfly flitting by and  enjoyed seeing the flutter of its wings? But have you ever considered why it came to be called “butterfly”? Perhaps you have wondered whether there used to be a large number of yellow, butter-coloured butterflies who gave their name to the whole species?

Well, there is a nice little story attached to the name of the butterfly. In the past, there was a general belief that butterflies ate milk and butter. This probably came about because of the way that flies hover over any food at all that’s left out, and butterflies may have been seen hovering over uncovered pails of milk and butter. Not only that, but this belief developed to encompass the idea that butterflies were either sent out by witches to steal butter, or were in fact, witches themselves, disguised as butterflies. Quite why the witches were out to steal the butter, we don’t know!

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