See more synonyms for butterfly on Thesaurus.com
noun, plural but·ter·flies.
  1. any of numerous diurnal insects of the order Lepidoptera, characterized by clubbed antennae, a slender body, and large, broad, often conspicuously marked wings.
  2. a person who flits aimlessly from one interest or group to another: a social butterfly.
  3. butterflies, (used with a plural verb) Informal. a queasy feeling, as from nervousness, excitement, etc.
  4. a racing breaststroke, using a dolphin kick, in which the swimmer brings both arms out of the water in forward, circular motions.
  5. Carpentry. butterfly wedge.
  6. Sculpture. an X-shaped support attached to an armature.
  7. one of the swinging brackets of a butterfly table.
  8. Movies. a screen of scrim, gauze, or similar material, for diffusing light.
verb (used with object), but·ter·flied, but·ter·fly·ing.
  1. Cookery. to slit open and spread apart to resemble the spread wings of a butterfly.
adjective Also butterflied.
  1. 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 formsbut·ter·fly·like, adjective, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for butterfly

Contemporary Examples of butterfly

Historical Examples of butterfly

  • Who, except Cupid, would barter his liberty for a butterfly?

  • It was really only a paraphrase of the old story of the grub and the butterfly.

    The Fortune Hunter

    Louis Joseph Vance

  • These men were as far removed from him as the crawling beetle is from the butterfly.

    Roden's Corner

    Henry Seton Merriman

  • Who shall say, however, that the butterfly sees nothing but the flowers?

    Roden's Corner

    Henry Seton Merriman

  • We see the acorn grow into the oak, the egg into the bird, the maggot into the butterfly.

    Micah Clarke

    Arthur Conan Doyle

British Dictionary definitions for butterfly


noun plural -flies
  1. 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 backCompare moth Related adjective: lepidopteran
  2. a person who never settles with one group, interest, or occupation for long
  3. a swimming stroke in which the arms are plunged forward together in large circular movements
  4. 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 for butterfly

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

Word Origin and History for butterfly

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