28 Comments

  1. If you do not use ze silk to make ze cocoon or chrysalis you will never have ze wings.

  2. Cocoons are made by moths with the silk, but a chrysalis forms from the caterpillar’s skin. Butterfly caterpillars use the silk only to attach themselves to the branch.

    P.S. The German word for “butterfly” is “Schmetterling“, the term “Schmettern” is an archaic word for “cream”, but the reason for the association with dairy products is not 100% clear (it depends on the reference you consult).

  3. Is all the “ze” stuff just faux French accent? Or a call out to the neo-pronouns movement? Or an allusion to online personality Ze Frank? Or…

  4. Somehow I never looked with any interest in the origins of butterfly, just accepting it as the standard term. But then repeatedly getting delighted at the several wits independently inventing a flutter-by as a perfectly punned descriptive name.

    But recently I was shocked to see a claim that flutterby was the established English term, and at some point butterfly emerged as a play on words which went on to take over the status as the standard term. (With no good account for the dairy factor, as Kilby notes for the German case.)

  5. After consulting a more reliable dictionary (instead of Wikipedia), I found this confirmation: “Old English , from butter + fly; perhaps from the cream or yellow color of common species, or from an old belief that the insects stole butter” [or cream], which nicely parallels the accepted German etymology.

  6. The Oxford English Dictionary is clear that “butterfly” is the original term and is quite old, going back to the early Old English term “buterflege.” Its discussion includes the following:

    “Origin: Formed within English, by compounding. Etymons: butter n.1, fly n.1
    Etymology: < butter n.1 + fly n.1

    Compare Dutch botervlieg (1588; one of numerous popular names for the insect, normally called in Dutch vlinder flinder n.), Middle High German bitterflivge, brutflevg (German regional Butterfliege, Botterflieg, beside standard German Schmetterling).
    The motivation for the name is unclear and has been variously explained. It may arise from the pale yellow appearance of the wings of certain European butterflies (perhaps specifically the brimstone butterfly), or from a supposed tendency to feed on or hover over butter or buttermilk, or from a folk belief that butterflies (or even witches in the form of butterflies) steal butter; compare names such as Dutch regional botterheks , lit. ‘butter witch’, bottervogel ‘butter bird’, boterwijf ‘butter wife’, German regional Butterhexe ‘butter witch’, Milchdieb ‘milk thief’, etc. Among numerous similar names found in Dutch is boterschijte , lit. ‘butter shit’, which has led to the (improbable) suggestion that the insect was so called on account of the (supposed) appearance of its excrement.”

  7. I think the OED may be reading a little too much into an interlingual homonym. The Dutch term “schijte” seems very similar to the northwest German term “schiet“. Both sound a lot like the the English word “shit”, but “Schietwetter” does not mean that it is raining turds, just that the weather is very bad. I think the second syllable of “boterschijte” was probably intended in the sense of “scoundrel”.

  8. Not to counter all the etymologists and entomologists here (an unusual mix, I suspect), but Mark H. had it right, The hip French caterpillars have used up all their cocoon silk on stylish silk scarfs.

  9. Thanks, bruhs, for the research. It restores my admiration for the wits who came up with a flutter-by! (Probably Vivian Darkbloom among them.)

  10. Not to mention Genesis, in “Supper’s Ready” (from “Foxtrot”):
    If you go down to Willow Farm, to look for butterflies, or flutter-byes, or gutter-flies; open your eyes …

  11. There was a very famous champion boxer named Max Schmetterling in the first half of the Twentieth Century. He fought a couple very notable contests with Joe Louis.

    The English meaning of his name taken as a German word explains why Muhammad Ali’s remark “Float like a butterfly , sting like a bee” has wiidely been understood to contain an indirect homage to Max Schmetterling.

    [Fact-check Dept. reports unverified dubious assertions]

  12. @ DB-LD – It’s a wonderful theoretical connection, but just as dubious as Kennedy’s transformation into a jelly doughnut. The boxer’s name was “Schmeling“, and despite crawling around in the etymological rabbit hole (in both languages), I cannot find anything that would warrent reinstating the missing “tter” (to turn it into “Schmetterling“).

  13. I suspect I’m not as literate as the others, but I took this to mean a ‘visit from your future’ sort of thing.

  14. I was also confused by Danny Boy’s comment, as I had only known the boxer as “Schmeling”. I expected that the Wikipedia article would have some alternate spelling but didn’t.

  15. I didn’t take it as a visit from the future, just one that’s been through it and sees them doing it incorrectly.

  16. Actually Ali said “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bear” in homage to another great boxer, Max Baer.

  17. Before you strain over the spelling of Max’s name, please note that CIDU’s fact-check Department stuck a warning of some sort onto my post …

  18. I knew of there being a boxer named Max Baer (Sr.), because when watching The Beverly Hillbillies in its original network run, my parents got excited to see in one of the lead roles the actor Max Baer Jr., and exclaimed how he must be the son of the prizefighter, and didn’t he look a lot like him?

  19. For those who take the bait and follow that comment down the hillbilly’s rabbit hole (let’s hope that nobody strikes any “Texas Tea”), here’s a link to Jethro Bodine (not “Clampett”).

  20. @Pete, an XKCD citation should never be used to prove something is not unusual…

  21. Interesting headline, “SCRAPPY A SET-UP” which today would probably suggest cheating but here just seems to mean he is thought to have a good chance.

  22. @ Kilby:

    #1

    “Schietwetter” does not mean that it is raining turds, just that the weather is very bad.

    And if you asked someone “How was the weather on your camping trip”, and they said “It was shit”, you wouldn’t think they meant it rained turds.

    #2

    The boxer’s name was “Schmeling“,

    Close enough: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl1Zfz-Widc

  23. @ MikeP – But that was exactly my point: that the Dutch term “boterschijte” is unlikely to be a direct reference to excrement. As Usual John reported above, even the OED considered the suggestion “improbable”.

  24. Speaking of Max Schmeling, in a nice case of “frequency illusion” his name came up in some dialogue in the tv program Better Call Saul, mid-season finale episode the other day. I’ll resist the urge to explain the whole plot … In a previous episode, character Howard has challenged lead character Jimmy to a private boxing match, in hopes of putting to rest some grievances between them. (Howard then beats up Jimmy pretty well.) Now in this episode, Jimmy and his partner Kim have defeated Howard in some legal dealings, in an underhanded scheming way, and that evening are relaxing at home. Howard comes knocking at their door. They talk about whether they need to let him in and let him have it out. Jimmy says “I’ll get it. Just in case Max Schmeling comes in swinging.”

  25. @Kilby – the point I was making is that one doesn’t need to rely on any inter- (or intra-) lingual homonyms. Or homophones. Even when the exact word is plainly used it’s equally plainly being used metaphorically. One sincerely hopes.

    } The Dutch term “schijte” seems very similar to the northwest German
    } term “schiet“. Both sound a lot like the the English word “shit”,

    Do they?

    From what I know of Dutch pronounciation, wouldn’t “schijte” sound like “shite”?

    And I was sure that German pronounciation rules were well defined, and that -ie- / -ei- were pronounced as per the second letter, for example “Sieg Heil”. The German company Siemens is “Zeemens”, and the aircraft manufacturer Heinkel was “Hainkel”. So wouldn’t “schiet” be “sheet”?

Add a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s