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[buht-er-flahy] /ˈbʌt ərˌflaɪ/
noun, plural butterflies.
any of numerous diurnal insects of the order Lepidoptera, characterized by clubbed antennae, a slender body, and large, broad, often conspicuously marked wings.
a person who flits aimlessly from one interest or group to another:
a social butterfly.
butterflies, (used with a plural verb) Informal. a queasy feeling, as from nervousness, excitement, etc.
a racing breaststroke, using a dolphin kick, in which the swimmer brings both arms out of the water in forward, circular motions.
Carpentry. butterfly wedge.
Sculpture. an X -shaped support attached to an armature.
one of the swinging brackets of a butterfly table.
Movies. a screen of scrim, gauze, or similar material, for diffusing light.
verb (used with object), butterflied, butterflying.
Cookery. to slit open and spread apart to resemble the spread wings of a butterfly.
adjective, Also, butterflied
Cookery. split open and spread apart to resemble a butterfly:
butterfly shrimp; butterfly steak.
Origin of butterfly
before 1000; Middle English boterflye, Old English buttorflēoge. See butter, fly2
Related forms
butterflylike, adjective, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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British Dictionary definitions for butterflies


plural noun
(informal) tremors in the stomach region due to nervousness


noun (pl) -flies
any diurnal insect of the order Lepidoptera that has a slender body with clubbed antennae and typically rests with the wings (which are often brightly coloured) closed over the back Compare moth related adjective lepidopteran
a person who never settles with one group, interest, or occupation for long
a swimming stroke in which the arms are plunged forward together in large circular movements
(commerce) the simultaneous purchase and sale of traded call options, at different exercise prices or with different expiry dates, on a stock exchange or commodity market
Word Origin
Old English buttorflēoge; the name perhaps is based on a belief that butterflies stole milk and butter
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for butterflies



Old English buttorfleoge, evidently butter (n.) + fly (n.), but of obscure signification. Perhaps based on the old notion that the insects (or witches disguised as butterflies) consume butter or milk that is left uncovered. Or, less creatively, simply because the pale yellow color of many species' wings suggests the color of butter. Another theory connects it to the color of the insect's excrement, based on Dutch cognate boterschijte. An overview of words for "butterfly" in various languages can be found here. Also see papillon.

Applied to persons from c.1600, originally in reference to vain and gaudy attire; by 1806 in reference to transformation from early lowly state; in reference to flitting tendencies by 1873. The swimming stroke so called from 1936. Butterflies "light stomach spasms caused by anxiety" is from 1908.

The butterfly effect is a deceptively simple insight extracted from a complex modern field. As a low-profile assistant professor in MIT's department of meteorology in 1961, [Edward] Lorenz created an early computer program to simulate weather. One day he changed one of a dozen numbers representing atmospheric conditions, from .506127 to .506. That tiny alteration utterly transformed his long-term forecast, a point Lorenz amplified in his 1972 paper, "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?" [Peter Dizikes, "The Meaning of the Butterfly," The Boston Globe, June 8, 2008]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for butterflies



Dull spasms in one's stomach, caused by anxiety and nervousness; flutters: I sure got butterflies thinking about it (1908+)


Related Terms

pussy butterfly

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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