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butterfly, n.

Forms:  eOE buterflege, eOE buturfliogae, eOE buturfliogo, OE butorfleoge, ME boterfleȝe, ME boterfleie, ME boterfleus (plural), ME boterflie, ME boterfliȝes (plural), ME botirfley, ME botirflie, ME botirflye, ME botreflee, ME botreflie, ME botterflie, ME boturflye, ME buterfliȝe, ME butreflye, ME butterfflye, ME butterfleis (plural), ME butterflyeȝ, ME buttirflye, ME butturflye, ME buttyrfle, ME buttyrflie, ME buttyrflye, ME–15 boterflye, ME–16 butterflee, ME–16 butterflie, ME–16 butterflye, 15– butterfly; also Scottish pre-17 buterflee, pre-17 butterfleis (plural); N.E.D. (1888) also records the forms ME bottirflye, ME botyrflie, ME botyrflye. (Show Less)
Frequency (in current use): 
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.
A very early use in a compound is shown by night-butterfly n. at night n. and int. Compounds 4.

 a. Any of numerous nectar-feeding insects with two pairs of large, typically brightly coloured, wings, which together with moths make up the order Lepidoptera.Butterflies are distinguished from moths (in most cases) by having clubbed or dilated antennae, holding the wings erect when at rest, and being active by day. Both butterflies and moths undergo complete metamorphosis, the larval stage being a caterpillar and the pupal stage a chrysalis.Traditionally placed in the suborder Rhopalocera, butterflies are now generally assigned to the superfamilies Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea.In quot. eOE   translating a form of classical Latin pāpiliō papilio n.

eOE   Épinal Gloss. (1974) 43   Papilo, buturfliogae [eOE Corpus Gloss. buterflege].
c1300  (c1250)    Floris & Blauncheflur (Cambr.) (1966) l. 473   Þer fliste vt a buterfliȝe Are ihc wiste on min iȝe.
c1390   W. Hilton Mixed Life (Vernon) in C. Horstmann Yorkshire Writers (1895) I. 288   Like to þe children þat rennen after a boterflye.
c1405  (c1390)    Chaucer Nun's Priest's Tale (Ellesmere) (1872) Prol. l. 3980   Swich talkyng is nat worth a boterflye.
▸ 1440   Promptorium Parvulorum (Harl. 221) 46   Boturflye, papilio.
1548   H. Latimer Notable Serm. sig. B.i   The butterflye gloriethe not in her owne dedes.
1578   H. Wotton tr. J. Yver Courtlie Controuersie 253   A Butterflie..remayneth in the open hande without power to flee any more.
1609   Shakespeare Troilus & Cressida iii. iii. 72   Men like butter-flies, Shew not their mealy wings but to the Summer.  
1626   Bacon Sylua Syluarum §696   As Butterflies quicken with heat, which were benummed with cold.
1727   J. Gay Fables I. xxiv. 83   And what's a Butterfly? At best He's but a caterpillar, drest.
1774   O. Goldsmith Hist. Earth VIII. 33   If we regard the wing of a butterfly with a good microscope, we shall perceive it studded over with a variety of little grains of different dimensions and forms.
1839   C. Darwin in R. Fitzroy & C. Darwin Narr. Surv. Voy. H.M.S. Adventure & Beagle III. ii. 38   This [sc. Papilio feronia] is the only butterfly which I have ever seen that uses its legs for running.
1856   E. B. Browning Aurora Leigh vii. 312   Butterflies, that bear Upon their blue wings such red embers round.
1900   Harper's Mag. May 838/2   Not a butterfly, but a poor singed moth, tumbled from the gas-globe.
1944   E. Welty in Harper's Bazaar Feb. 152/3   Even the women in sunbonnets disappear and nothing moves at noon but butterflies.
1974   Ecology 55 874/2   Plants suitable for adult butterfly feeding are found nearly everywhere.
2017   Daily Mail (Nexis) 12 Apr.   Results show that butterflies are failing to cope with our changing climate and how we manage the environment.

eOE—2017(Hide quotations)


 b. figurative. In plural. A fluttering sensation felt, esp. in the stomach, as a result of nervousness or apprehensive excitement. Frequently in to have butterflies (in the stomach) .

[1908   F. Converse House of Prayer iv. 43   The three o'clock train going down the valley..gave him a sad feeling, as if he had a butterfly in his stomach.]
1940   Oakland (Calif.) Tribune 20 July d16/2   The blond giant admits he has butterflies in his stomach as he contemplates the adventure.
1942   N.Y. Times Mag. 25 Oct. 31/3   It seems everybody had as many butterflies as I did, and the same heart-sinking feeling.
1955   J. Cannan Long Shadows viii. 132   With butterflies in her stomach..she ascended the pretentious flight of dirty marble steps.
1958   Woman 20 Sept. 69/3   I still have ‘butterflies’ even now when I hear the Tiger Moth plane throttling back, which is my signal to prepare for the jump.
1977   Galesburg (Illinois) Register-Mail 23 Dec. 9/1   I get butterflies just thinking about telling mom and dad.
1996   Y. Martel Self 195   He was older, twenty-two, in fourth year, politics, loved Bergman, Buñuel and Cocteau, and I felt butterflies in my stomach when I thought about him in a certain way.
2011   T. Ronald Becoming Nancy (2012) ii. 37   I suddenly had butterflies, and felt slightly clammy. What the hell was happening?

1940—2011(Hide quotations)

 2. figurative.

 a. Something likened to a butterfly, esp. in being flimsy, fragile, or ephemeral.

c1390   W. Hilton Mixed Life (Vernon) in C. Horstmann Yorkshire Writers (1895) I. 288 (MED)   What is al þe pompe of þis world in richesse or iolyte but a boturflye [c1440 Thornton buttirflye]?
1586   J. Prime Expos. St. Paul to Galathians iv. 146   Alas, alas Popery flyeth after butterflies, and beateth the aire, and aimeth at vncertainties.
a1603   T. Cartwright Confut. Rhemists New Test. (1618) 407   Those Churches which used unleavened bread, used no such butterflies as you doe; but had a great Cake which was sufficient for the whole congregation to communicate in.
1747   R. Campbell London Tradesman ii. 28   A vain Curiosity, after Butterflies and Trifles, [must not] pass for Love of useful Knowledge and Philosophy.
1788   R. Burns Let. 15 Nov. (1985) I. 340   I see every day, new Musical Publications, advertised; but what are they? Gaudy, hunted butterflies of a day, & then vanish for ever.
1872   Harper's Mag. Feb. 383/1   He was able to follow Alice to Newport and the other gay places in which her butterfly of a soul delighted.
1880   Harvard Lampoon 25 June 92/1   The little paper, started as a temporary gibe at the absurdity of the Sophomorical solemnity of the College papers of the day, proved to be an ephemeral butterfly only so far as it resembled that insect in its necessary relation to the ‘grub’.
2003   Los Angeles Times 22 Dec. 1/2   Columbia was a white butterfly bolted to a bullet. It was more robust than any other spacecraft ever built, more fragile than anyone dared acknowledge.

c1390—2003(Hide quotations)


 b. A capricious, giddy, or frivolous person, esp. one having a gaudy or showy appearance.See also social butterfly n. at social adj. and n. Special uses 2.

a1500  (c1477)    T. Norton Ordinal of Alchemy (BL Add.) (1975) l. 2719   Some in a weke..Will change theire mynde, & some in a day... Late such like botirflyes [a1550 Bodl. e Mus. butterflees] wandir & passe.
1598   J. Marston Scourge of Villanie i. vi. sig. E6   O stay me, least I raile Beyond Nil vltra, to see this Butterflie, This windie bubble taske my balladry With sencelesse censure.
1608   Shakespeare King Lear xxiv. 13   Weele..tell old tales and laugh At guilded butterflies .  
a1649   W. Drummond Wks. (1711) 142   Long since I learned not to esteem of any golden Butterflies there [i.e. at court], but as of Counters.
1716   J. Gay Let. 26 Mar. (1966) 30   The Fops are painted Butterflys that flutter for a day.
1766   J. Fordyce Serm. Young Women I. ii. 76   Nor will you be in danger of appearing butterflies one day, and slatterns the next.
1841   Blackwood's Edinb. Mag. 50 63   Coroneted carriages abound: the butterflies of fashion are abroad.
1885   M. G. Watkins in Academy 5 Dec. 379/1   Sufficiently interesting to captivate that butterfly, the ‘general reader’.
1928   P. G. Wodehouse Good Morning, Bill iii. 143   ‘You know perfectly well, Lord Tidmouth, that you are a mere butterfly.’ ‘Pardon me. I may be a butterfly, but I am not mere.’
1970   D. Morgan in S. Terkel Hard Times ii. 173   She said to me, ‘It's not a job for a butterfly.’ She could just look at me and tell that I was just totally unsuitable.
2013   Guardian (Nexis) 15 Feb. (G2 section) 20   He a witty and urbane man of the world, she a flirtatious society butterfly who is to fall passionately in love.

a1500—2013(Hide quotations)


 c. A person or thing that has undergone a considerable or striking transformation, esp. from a comparatively drab to a more eye-catching appearance. Typically in wider figurative context, and frequently with humorous or ironic overtones.With allusion to the butterfly's metamorphosis from caterpillar or chrysalis to its adult form.

1866   All Year Round 21 July 32/1   He saw behind the bar the money grub of the pay-box transformed into a butterfly of the gayest variety.
1889   Preston Guardian 2 Feb. 4/6   The great Mr Wanamaker..who now emerges a full blown butterfly with cabinet rank.
1936   Congress. Rec. 80 10764/1   The Republican chrysalis sloughed off its drab coat of reactionary and special-privilege leadership and emerged as a beautiful butterfly of liberal and progressive convictions.
1965   S. J. Perelman in New Yorker 28 Aug. 28/1   I doubt whether anybody who saw Shirley Mazchstyck in pigtails could predict that out of this drab cocoon there would one day emerge a gorgeous butterfly yclept Sherry Muscatel, America's No. 1 stripteuse.
2015   Radio Times (South/West ed.) 11 July 32/3   MacFarlane..shed his nerdy persona and emerged a dashing butterfly.

1866—2015(Hide quotations)


 d. British slang. A person who only works during certain periods of the year; esp. a cab driver who only works during the summer months. Occasionally also: a person who moves temporarily or seasonally from place to place. Now rare.Recorded earliest in attributive use.

1884   Pall Mall Gaz. 14 July 1/2   There being then a smaller demand for conveyances both on the part of the public and the drivers, many of the latter, called ‘butterfly cabbies’, spending the cold season at other occupations.
1890   Chambers's Jrnl. 10 May 289/2   A ‘butterfly’ man rests for a moment to wipe his streaming brow, when the warder's stern voice bids him proceed with his work.
1891   Daily News 29 Dec. 6/4   The ‘butterfly man’, who is given cabs by the proprietors in the height of the season.
1895   Westm. Gaz. 8 Mar. 3/1   Those cabbies who come upon the streets in the fine days and disappear with the autumn leaves are called ‘butterflies’.
1902   Daily Chron. 2 June 7/1   Chelsea will welcome the return of the truant ‘butterfly’ to a region always to be associated with his artistic fame.
1912   Standard 15 Apr. 6/7   It was stated..that the word ‘butterflies’ was a ‘technical term’ for painters and decorators who worked upon bank holidays.
2009   Time Out (Nexis) 2 Apr. 6   Butterfly, cabbie who only works in summer.

1884—2009(Hide quotations)


3. Perhaps: some sort of legal summons or formal demand. Obsolete.

1583   P. Stubbes Anat. Abuses sig. Kviiv   If the poore man haue not wherewith to pay..out go butter-flies and writs, as thick as haile.

1583—1583(Hide quotations)


4. Coal Mining. A set of catches above a mine cage designed to open out so as to prevent the falling of the cage should the hoist fail. Frequently attributive, as butterfly apparatus, butterfly catch, etc. Obsolete.

1882   Western Morning News 25 Nov. 5/6   The ascending cage was hurled into the headgear, smashing the butterflies and breaking the engine rope, and had it not been for the remaining butterflies the cage must have fallen to the bottom.
1887   Daily News 11 Jan. 2/7   The butterfly apparatus..had acted, but..the bolts..were torn away.
1909   Daily Chron. 8 Jan. 5/3   When the winding rope was detached the safety ‘butterfly’ catches failed to act.

1882—1909(Hide quotations)


5. On a hansom cab: a metal guide for the reins attached to the front of the roof, consisting of two joined upright supports with looped ends and having a shape reminiscent of a butterfly with open wings. Obsolete.

1883   Standard 6 Mar. 6/3   The box covered the whole roof of the cab, preventing him [sc. the cabman] from seeing the ‘butterfly’.
1885   M. J. Rowley & C. A. Wheeler Specif. Patent 14,398   The butterfly, or bracket, is screwed to the top of the Hansom cab.
1911   B. Swift Old Dance Master i. 1   The burnished, silver-mounted ‘butterfly’ through which the long reins pass before they reach the driver's hands.

1883—1911(Hide quotations)


 6. Swimming. A stroke in swimming in which both arms are raised out of the water and lifted forwards together while the legs are brought up and down in unison with an undulating motion (cf. butterfly kick n. 1).Cf. earlier butterfly stroke at Compounds 1a(e).

1936   N.Y. Times 15 Aug. 8/2   Higgins..used the butterfly only at the beginning and end [of the race].
1938   Times 10 Aug. 6   The butterfly, it may be explained, is made by recovering both arms at once out of the water.
1979   N. Farah Sweet & Sour Milk 12   He swam away doing the butterfly.
2008   Prevention Mar. 67   I was a pro at the 200-meter butterfly.

1936—2008(Hide quotations)



  to break a butterfly on a wheel and variants: to use unnecessary force in destroying something fragile. Hence also butterfly on a wheel: a weak or vulnerable person destroyed by, or at the mercy of, significantly more powerful people, institutions, or processes.Originally with reference to a wheel used as an instrument of torture (see wheel n. 2a   and cf. to break on the wheel at break v. 7b).

1734   Pope Epist. to Arbuthnot 15   Satire or Shame alas! can Paris feel? Who breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?
1788   Crit. Rev. Jan. 75   We never wish to break a butterfly on a wheel, and often praise where the severity of criticism might have checked the tender mercies which well-meant endeavours have drawn from our tribunal.
1809   Lit. Panorama Oct. 88   So very depraved is the Stage become, that to criticize a modern English Opera now is as silly an undertaking as to break a butterfly on the wheel.
1875   Trollope Way we live Now I. ix. 70   One doesn't want to break a butterfly on the wheel.
1921   Mod. Lang. Notes 36 182   Are we breaking this delicate butterfly unnecessarily upon the wheel, by over-complexity of conjecture?
1931   W. Holtby Poor Caroline vi. 213   I can't bear to see a woman in the dock—butterfly on the wheel.
1951   N. G. Annan Leslie Stephen 292   Why break a butterfly on the wheel of scholarship?
1990   W. Hussey Butterfly on a Wheel (transcribed from song, perf. ‘The Mission’)    Love breaks the wings of a butterfly on a wheel.
2002   M. E. Abbott Street was Mine iii. 76   Marlowe is thus a butterfly on a wheel, spinning at the hands of brutish and gorgeous thugs.
2002   Times 12 Aug. (T2 section) 19/2   There were plenty of implausibilities in Ella and the Mothers, if you stopped and thought about it too much, but that would be to break a butterfly upon a wheel.

1734—2002(Hide quotations)




 (a) General attributive (in senses 2a, 2b) with the senses: ‘vain, capricious, frivolous, showy’; ‘flimsy, fragile, ephemeral’.

1596   T. Nashe Haue with you to Saffron-Walden sig. V2   As vnfainedly and sincerely as in his first butter-fly Pamphlet against Greene he praisd me for that proper yong man, Greenes fellow Writer.
1624   T. Heywood Γυναικεῖον vi. 298   Iulia on the contrarie, loosely and wantonly habited, had in her traine none but butterflie-pages, wild fashion-mongers, and fantasticke gallants.
1673   R. Head Canting Acad. 103   The Bawd furnisheth them with Butterfly Garments.
1728   M. Delany Autobiogr. & Corr. (1861) I. 165   All the butterfly men were at court last night.
1756   E. Haywood Wife iv. 29   I cannot help but heartily pitying the husbands of those butterfly wives who are every day flaunting in the Mall.
1832   Spectator 10 Oct. 996/1   Everybody loved Jack Taylor—he was thoroughly harmless—a kind and affectionate creature, with all kinds of light pleasantry fluttering across his butterfly brain.
1857   Child's Compan. Jan. 25   Perhaps they were butterfly thoughts..flitting from one thing to another but fixing upon nothing.
1917   Writer Apr. 86/1   Why send us a fluffy story opening with a boudoir talk between Mabel and Lucille about their silly, sugary love-affairs, or stories of dull domestic or butterfly society life?
1982   J. Krantz Mistral's Daughter (1983) xiv. 200   Their ranks grew to many dozens, exquisite girls, butterfly girls who were so much more glamorous, so clearly more sophisticated than their only rivals.
2012   Dominion Post (Wellington, N.Z.) (Nexis) 29 Sept. 32   His butterfly mind has often moved on to the next thought within the space of a single sentence.

1596—2012(Hide quotations)


 (b) General attributive (in sense 1a) with the sense ‘of, relating to, or reminiscent of a butterfly or butterflies’.

1658   Sir T. Browne Garden of Cyrus iiii, in Hydriotaphia: Urne-buriall 180   Handsomely observable in hooded and gaping flowers, and the Butterfly bloomes of leguminous plants.
1795   ‘P. Pindar’ Pindariana 229   The Virtuoso itch, For making a rare butterfly collection.
1847–9   Todd's Cycl. Anat. & Physiol. IV. i. 171/2   The butterfly movement of the wings being most commonly resorted to.
1895   Argosy Nov. 130/2   It oscillated in the breath of air stirring, and after a few butterfly gyrations, alighted in the eager clutch of Jimmie.
1911   J. Muir My First Summer in Sierra 172   His trousers..have become so adhesive with the mixed fat and resin that..moth and butterfly wings, legs and antennae of innumerable insects, or even whole insects..adhere to them.
1984   R. M. Pyle Audubon Soc. Handbk. for Butterfly Watchers xiii. 161 (caption)    Hunting butterfly eggs in order to rear them out requires special watchfulness.
1988   Evolution 42 303/2   Most cases of independent evolution of gregariousness in butterfly larvae are preceded by the evolution of aposematism.
2001   Nature 31 May 531/1   The size of Britain's butterfly fauna elicits expressions of sympathy from lepidopterists elsewhere.

1658—2001(Hide quotations)


 (c) attributive. Designating an (adhesive) bandage consisting of a thin strip of material with wider ends, typically used to hold the edges of a wound together; esp. in butterfly bandage, butterfly strip. See also butterfly clip n. (c) at Compounds 2a, butterfly stitch n. (b) at Compounds 2a.

1895   R. Guiteras in Med. News 6 Apr. 366/2   I also..show my patients how to make a butterfly-dressing to soak up the discharge.
1895   Virginia Med. Monthly May 225   To catch the discharge, a butterfly bandage should be used.
1939   Amer. Jrnl. Surg. 44 400/1   The method is an outgrowth of the time honored procedure of closing small superficial wounds with butterfly strips of adhesive.
1995   Jrnl. Safety Res. 26 65/1   The wounds are about 3 cm long and superficial. They are cleaned and closed using butterfly plasters.
2003   B. Wagner Still Holding i. 36   A butterfly bandage graced his temple.
2008   E. M. Stasiak Your New Baby v. 123   When shopping for a first-aid kit, be sure it contains..antibiotic ointment, burn-cooling gel, butterfly closures, [etc.].

1895—2008(Hide quotations)


 (d) attributive. Designating a piece of meat or fish split almost in half and opened flat, or a dish made with this cut of meat or fish. Cf. butterfly v. 2.

1932   Humboldt (Iowa) Republican 30 Sept. 8/4 (caption)    The new butterfly chops, one of the many new ideas in pork cuts.
1955   F. G. Ashbrook Butchering, Processing & Preserv. Meat xii. 171   Butterfly Fillets are the two sides of the fish corresponding to two single fillets held together by uncut flesh and the skin.
1978   Globe & Mail (Toronto) 26 Aug. 40/3   A choice of 14 entrees, including Butterfly Steak stuffed with summer sausage and raisins.
1989   A. Aird 1990 Good Pub Guide 567   The food can run to the finest steaks or prettily presented butterfly prawns.
2000   Esquire July 87/3   For parties of 20 or more, cook a butterfly leg of lamb—it's really simple.

1932—2000(Hide quotations)


 (e) attributive. Swimming. Designating a stroke in swimming in which both arms are raised out of the water and lifted forwards together while the legs are brought up and down in unison with an undulating motion; of, relating to, or involving this stroke. Frequently in butterfly stroke. Cf. sense 6, and butterfly kick n. 1.

1934   N.Y. Times 16 July 19/4   He won because he used the unorthodox ‘butterfly stroke’ that still is considered legal in spite of the storms of protest its adoption has caused.
1937   Official Rep. XIth Olympiad 1936 168   The breast stroke swimmers used the butterfly style, which was a failure.
1968   Cumberland News 24 Jan. 36/3   Mark Redmond copped the 20-yard breaststroke and Rob Alderson took the 20-yard butterfly event.
1970   Wilson Bull. 82 220   The floating eagle propelled itself toward shore by slow rhythmic beats of its outstretched wings, much like a human swimmer using the butterfly breast stroke.
2014   J. Costello Time of our Lives 355   A vigorous session of butterfly stroke in the swimming pool.

1934—2014(Hide quotations)


 (f) attributive. Designating glasses with frames that arch upwards from the bridge and have a comparatively narrow bottom edge, particularly fashionable in the 1950s and 60s.

1942   Independent Woman Apr. 125/3 (caption)    Her new butterfly frames are the same color as her red lipstick.
1962   H. Calisher Tale for Mirror 124   Hair..coiffed not ten minutes before, butterfly glasses with this year's line of twisted gold at the bridge.
1973   Times 30 Oct. 16/7   Bartlett..wears butterfly spectacles like [Mary] Whitehouse.
2000   Advertiser (Brisbane) (Nexis) 14 Sept. 20   With lilac hair, a sequined jacket and butterfly glasses,..Dame Edna Everage, housewife, superstar..—alias comic Barry Humphries.

1942—2000(Hide quotations)


 b. Objective, parasynthetic, and instrumental, as butterfly-brained, butterfly-catching, butterfly-hunting, etc.

1796   J. Owen Trav. Europe I. lii. 265   A German baron, whose penchant for butterfly-hunting was extraordinary.
1838   Morning Chron. 19 Apr.   The predicament in which our pair of ‘butterfly-brained’ baronets stand.
1881   J. Payn Grape from Thorn I. ii. 29   His only exercise (he was an entomologist) being butterfly-catching.
1881   G. Allen Vignettes from Nature iv. 31   The date when flower-hunting and butterfly-hunting both begin.
1948   Life 6 Sept. 54/1 (caption)    Butterfly-collecting is fun since wild flowers attract them plentifully.
1961   Times 6 Dec. 17/3   The butterfly-brained society hostess.
1990   Field Jan. 79   Buddleia Corner—a bee-busy, butterfly-haunted place kept warm by sheltering hedges.
2002   Independent 26 Sept. (Review section) 21/4   This is further proof that BBC1's science programmes have been comprehensively cabled, capitulating to the butterfly-minded style of Bravo and the Discovery channel.
2002   D. Monkman Nature's Year in Kawarthas vi. 141   Butterfly-watching is at its most productive in late June and early July since the greatest number of different species is aflight at this time.

1796—2002(Hide quotations)


butterfly aeroplane   n. Obsolete any of various lightweight aeroplanes.Chiefly with reference to the Demoiselle series of aeroplanes built by aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont (1873–1932).  [Butterfly   is only an approximate translation of French demoiselle   damselfly (see demoiselle n.).]

1908   Syracuse (Indiana) Jrnl. 27 Aug.   Notable airship flights and records... Santos Dumont, in Butterfly aeroplane, 150 meters in Paris, Nov. 10, 1907.
1909   Manch. Guardian 6 Jan. 8/5   M. Santos Dumont's butterfly aeroplane, named the Demoiselle, has the distinction of being the neatest and lightest exhibit.
1909   Daily Chron. 10 Aug. 1/5   The Stewart-Brownell combination..have been preparing..what they call a ‘butterfly aeroplane’.

1908—1909(Hide quotations)


  butterfly ballot   n. chiefly U.S. colloquial a machine-readable ballot paper having the names of the candidates printed on either side of a column of punched holes, which the voter pierces to select his or her preferred candidate.Particularly associated with the ballot paper used in Florida during the U.S. Presidential elections in 2000, which was claimed to have confused Democratic voters into selecting the wrong candidate.

2000   N.Y. Observer 20 Nov. 4/2   Members of this demographic..suddenly came forward to say they had been precipitated into senior moments by a butterfly ballot.
2008   Independent 1 Nov. 3/2   Hanging chads and butterfly ballots decided the outcome, and ushered in..the most inept and disastrous presidency of the modern era.
2011   R. K. Scher Politics of Disenfranchisement v. 115   The famous ‘butterfly ballot’ in Palm Beach County, Florida (where Pat Buchanan received thousands of votes apparently meant for Al Gore).

2000—2011(Hide quotations)


  butterfly block   n. Nautical (now rare) a small block consisting of two wings, each wing containing a wheel for a chain to pass over.

1882   G. S. Nares Seamanship (ed. 6) 41   Rollers or butterfly blocks are fitted to bands round the yard.
1933   C. N. Longridge ‘Cutty Sark’ II. vii. 148   In the later ships, the two blocks were therefore replaced by a single butterfly block with two sheaves, which was shackled to an eye under the central sling band.

1882—1933(Hide quotations)


  butterfly bomb   n. now hist. A type of small bomb with a cylindrical casing designed to spring open (forming a shape thought to resemble a butterfly) and rotate as the bomb descends.By means of a spindle connecting the casing to the device's fuse, the rotation of the open casing arms the explosive device.The butterfly bomb was first developed by Germany in the Second World War.

1942   Bomb Reconnaissance (U.S. War Dept.) ii. ii. 23   2 Kg. Antipersonnel ‘Butterfly’ Bomb.
1972   Daily Tel. 1 Sept. (Colour Suppl.) 16/2   In the last war the Germans devised a series of anti-personnel devices, including the S-mine & the ‘butterfly-bomb’.
2015   Daily Mirror (Nexis) 22 Oct.   When peace was declared in May 1945, the men of Bomb Disposal had defused about 40,000 high explosive bombs, 5,700 butterfly bombs and another 6,900 anti-aircraft shells and incendiaries.

1942—2015(Hide quotations)


  butterfly bow   n. a bow having the loops, or loop and end, on each side spread apart like the open wings of a butterfly; spec. a bow tie having the loops spread apart in this way (cf. butterfly tie n.).

1830   Ladies' Museum Feb. 117   Large butterfly bows, or else ends of very broad riband, or of silk, arranged in the form of butterfly's wings..is the favourite style of trimming.
1888   Cassell's Family Mag. Feb. 182/1   A bonnet à la Folle, with a tricoloured butterfly bow at the top.
1920   Punch 4 Aug. 97/2   The wearing of a butterfly bow with a double event collar was a solecism past forgiveness.
1971   Vogue (U.S. ed.) 15 Nov. 59/2   To go out, a dark velvet suit or bottle-green suède suit, butterfly bow in black velvet. If a tie is not demanded, a cashmere turtleneck, or ecru-color shirt in rough peasant cotton.
1992   N.Y. Mag. 28 Sept. 65/1   A size 6 off-the-shoulder bridal dress with a duchesse-silk-satin top, layered tulle skirt, and butterfly bow in the back.

1830—1992(Hide quotations)


  butterfly cake   n.  (a) a pressed cake made from bugong moths, formerly used as food by Australian Aborigines (rare);  (b) a small sponge cake which has had a portion of the top removed, divided into two, and then reset with buttercream, etc., so as to resemble a butterfly's wings.

1906   N.Y. Times 13 May x. 4/7   The bodies and the oil are then made into the famous bugong or butterfly cakes.
1910   Table Talk Sept. 495/2   The ice cream may be served in yellow rose cases and should be accompanied by small butterfly cakes iced with white.
1932   Adelaide Chron. 4 Aug. 58/1   Butterfly cakes... Cut off the tops and fill them with whipped cream or vanilla filling. Cut the pieces of the tops in halves and put on top of cream to look like butterflies' wings.
1951   Irish Times 24 May 6/4   Butterfly cakes will please everyone. Children will love the way the little wings are set on top of luscious, creamy whorls.
2009   M. Berry Baking Bible 118   Butterfly cakes are quick and easy to make and very effective for a children's party.

1906—2009(Hide quotations)


  butterfly chair   n. any of various chairs resembling a butterfly in shape; spec. a (foldable) type of sling chair having a tubular steel frame made from two stylized butterfly shapes joined together, with a piece of canvas, leather, etc., suspended from its four apexes.

1892   Dundee Courier & Argus 23 Dec. 6/3   Among the newest basket chairs are the butterfly chairs with plush introduced and a high-backed one with seat and back in Indian colours.
1952   N.Y. Times Mag. 20 July 35/4 (advt.)    Butterfly chair. Deluxe model. Heavy black steel frame. Durable removable canvas sling.
1984   Washington Post (Nexis) 13 Sept. (Home section) 20   Butterfly chairs, with canvas, black leather or ponyskin covers.
2005   J. Miller Furniture 441/1   Also known as the A chair, the Hardoy chair, the Sling chair, and the Butterfly chair, the B.K.F. chair is named for its designers.

1892—2005(Hide quotations)


butterfly clack   n. British (Obsolete rare) a pair of flap valves consisting a single piece of flexible material (typically leather) fastened down in the middle to form a hinge; = butterfly valve n. (a).

1859   W. J. M. Rankine Man. Steam Engine ii. iv. 123   A pair of flap valves placed hinge to hinge (usually made of one piece of leather fastened down in the middle) constitute a ‘butterfly clack’.
1913   Power 12 Aug. 243/2   Sometimes they are made of one piece of leather fastened down in the middle and often known in English practice as a ‘butterfly clack’.

1859—1913(Hide quotations)


  butterfly clip   n. any of various clips that resemble a butterfly, typically in having two large sides attached to a thin middle part; esp.  (a) a small stud with two long flat pointed pieces that are pushed though the surface or surfaces to be attached and the pieces opened out behind, used to fasten papers together; a paper fastener;  (b) a sprung hair clip, typically one with two jaws opened by a finger-piece or finger-pieces that resemble butterfly wings;  (c) a type of (adhesive) plaster consisting of a thin strip with two wider ends, used to hold the edges of a wound together; cf. Compounds 1a(c).

1874   Eng. Mech. 13 Feb. 540/2   I use..a..rantoon, the wheels wood,..iron tires, for which I bought rubber tires with butterfly clips, patented.
1912   Jrnl. Instit. Electr. Engin. 48 18   The heaters..consisting merely of a single radiator lamp with a concave bright metal reflector, a butterfly clip being attached at the back for the purpose of clipping on to the leg of a table.
1962   Illustr. Catal. Public Information Materials (U.S. Dept. of Health, Educ. & Welfare, Social Security Admin.)) vii. D- 29/1   Posters..can be mounted with..‘Butterfly’ clips (brass paper fasteners with 1″ shank).
1963   San Antonio (Texas) Express & News 24 Feb. 2 d/1   The doctor wanted to use several stitches but Salazar and his handlers refused, insisting that ‘butterfly’ clips heal the wound faster.
1965   P. White Season at Sarsaparilla ii, in Four Plays 132 (stage direct.)    Girlie enters. She is dressed, but is wearing butterfly clips. Could be without her teeth. Anyway, she averts her face.
1993   J. Day Small Business in Tough Times viii. 210   Never throw out anything with a paper clip or butterfly clip still attached.
2010   G. March Cat, Belly Dancer, & Cello 32   Long chestnut hair held high with a butterfly clip.
2013   S. Altschuler Exposed i. 3   We have to stem the flow of blood... It doesn't look too bad, maybe a butterfly clip is all.

1874—2013(Hide quotations)


  butterfly cock   n. rare a tap or other valve equipped with a handle which has two projections thought to resemble wings.

1868   Technologisches Wörterbuch III. 507/2   Robinet papillion, Butterfly-cock, winged tap.
1963   H. Calisher Textures of Life 15   To their left, water dripped into a sink from a single tap, flanked by a toilet in a half-open stall and a laocoön of pipes tipped with a butterfly cock that might once have meant gas.

1868—1963(Hide quotations)


  butterfly collar   n. any of various collars resembling the shape of a butterfly's wings; esp.  (a) a type of wing collar having rounded wing tips, popular in the early 20th cent.;  (b) a shirt collar having two long pointed or rounded wings, popular in the 1970s.

1893   N.Y. Times 6 Feb. 8/5   Medium weight cloth Capes, with Butterfly Collar of velvet, silk lined, ribbon trimming.
1904   T.P.'s Weekly 17 June 803/2 (advt.)    The David Hope New Regd. Fashionable Butterfly Collar (4-fold pure Irish Linen, as illustrated).
1988   ‘DJ Jazzy Jeff’ & ‘The Fresh Prince’ Parents just don't Understand (transcribed from song) in He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper   I said, ‘Mom, this shirt is plaid with a butterfly collar!’
2003   Times (Nexis) 30 May (Weekend section) 9   White tie means black evening tails.., a starched white shirt with butterfly collar, white waistcoat, white bow tie, [etc.].
2014   J. B. Morrison Extra Ordinary Life Frank Derrick ix. 55   He was wearing..a yellow shirt with a butterfly collar..and huge-flared trousers.

1893—2014(Hide quotations)


  butterfly collector   n. a person who catches butterflies and preserves them as a collection for study or as a hobby.

1824   L. Jermyn (title)    The butterfly collector's vade mecum.
1905   Country Life in Amer. Apr. 652/2   The butterfly collector must have the scientific temperament and a delight in the outdoor chase.
2004   Daily Tel. 26 July 15/1   Not since Victorian butterfly collectors scampered across..meadows brandishing large nets has there been such a passion for lepidoptery.

1824—2004(Hide quotations)


  butterfly farm   n. a place (typically a glass enclosure, area of a park, etc.) providing a suitable environment for butterflies to be bred, reared, or exhibited, variously as a public attraction, for research, or for sale.

1887   Country Gentleman 22 Oct. 1418/1   Why, if such daring deeds were to take place any day on the turf as occur every morning on the Stock Exchange the Jockey Club would have to warn everybody off and turn their establishments into butterfly farms.
1892   Spectator 2 Apr. 460/1   His garden was soon turned into a butterfly-farm.
1966   Country Life 22 Sept. 732/1   On their butterfly farm in Dorset they raise many fascinating and exotic species of butterfly.
2003   P. Thomas & A. Vaitlingam Jamaica: Rough Guide (ed. 3) 354   Plans are afoot to create a butterfly farm here, too; the owners hope to start a breeding programme for Jamaica's giant swallowtail butterflies.

1887—2003(Hide quotations)


  butterfly garden   n. a garden that provides an environment that attracts butterflies, as well as certain moths; (also) a large glass enclosure, area of a park, etc., providing a protective environment for butterflies and plants as a public attraction or for study or research (cf. butterfly house n.).

1898   Speaker 12 Mar. 328/2   Over one end of the wall a plant of everlasting-pea has thrown its cascade of gorgeous rose-pink blossom. Saffron butterflies pirouette above it... It is a butterfly garden.
1904   Leisure Hour Dec. 158/1   We spend infinite pains and toil planting and tending a flower garden; why not have a butterfly garden too? Think of it..: a mass of green food plants giving birth daily to a host of gaily-coloured, velvet-winged insects.
1984   R. M. Pyle Audubon Soc. Handbk. for Butterfly Watchers xii. 143   Add a patch of annuals—sweet William, zinnias, and marigolds for starters..and you have a basic butterfly garden.
2017   Daily Tel. (Nexis) 24 Jan.   Its [sc. Singapore's airport] offerings include..a swimming pool, a six-metre waterfall and a butterfly garden housing 1,000 species.

1898—2017(Hide quotations)


  butterfly gardening   n. the action or practice of cultivating or laying out a garden designed to attract butterflies, esp. as a hobby.

1901   Spectator 16 Mar. 383/2   Public advisers in papilio culture, the Miss Jekylls of butterfly gardening, ready with counsel as to how to bring on late second broods of tortoiseshells to grace the autumn borders.
2016   UNI (India) (Nexis) 2 June   Butterfly gardening is often aimed at inviting..butterflies and moths to lay eggs as well.

1901—2016(Hide quotations)


  butterfly house   n. a large (typically heated) glass enclosure providing a protective environment for butterflies and plants as a public attraction or for study or research.

1881   York Herald 5 Sept. 3/4   When Dr. Sclater succeeded..as secretary of the Zoological Society.., there was one thing still to be done, to open a butterfly house.
1986   Times (Nexis) 19 July   In the warm and damp Butterfly House, honeysuckles..mingle with unfamiliar exotic plants.., carefully chosen to nourish the spectacular butterflies that flutter unafraid among the visitors.
2014   S. R. Shaw Planet of Bugs v. 70   Judging from the growing popularity of butterfly houses and insect zoos, it appears that most people gain pleasure from the sight of butterflies in flight.

1881—2014(Hide quotations)


  butterfly kiss   n.  (a) a light kiss in which the lips only brush the skin;  (b) an act of affectionately fluttering one's eyelashes against a person's skin.

1849   Godey's Lady's Bk. Oct. 229/1   The light butterfly kiss of ceremony.
1871   ‘G. Eliot’ Middlemarch (1872) I. i. v. 73   Celia knelt down..and gave her little butterfly kiss.
1883   E. Lynn Linton Ione I. vi. 136   Making her eyelids ache with her butterfly kisses!
1932   E. Waugh Black Mischief ii. 58   ‘I've invented a new way of kissing. You do it with your eye-lashes.’ ‘I've known that for years. It's called a butterfly kiss.’
2001   C. Glazebrook Madolescents 98   He plants a butterfly kiss on my mouth and soon we're having a full-blown snog, tongues, the lot.
2005   N. Laird Utterly Monkey 231   Her lashes brushed against his cheekbone. ‘That's a butterfly kiss.’ She'd pulled away.

1849—2005(Hide quotations)


  butterfly knife   n.  (a) a folding pocket knife with a handle consisting of two parts which divide and pivot round to enclose the blade, typically used as a weapon; = balisong n.;  (b) a short sword with a single sharp edge, typically one of a pair, used in wing chun and certain other forms of kung fu; = butterfly sword n.  [In sense (b)   after Chinese húdié shuāngdāo lit. ‘butterfly double knife (or sword)’.]

1970   Argus (Fremont-Newark, Calif.) 30 June 15/3   After he had picked up the two hitchhikers, one of them pulled a butterfly knife and said, ‘We would appreciate a ride to Richmond.’
1974   Black Belt Nov. 15/1   During a ‘double butterfly vs. spear’ set..another weapon sailed off the stage... A butterfly knife.
1992   J. W. Smith Wing Chun Kung-Fu III. ii. 50   A Wing Chun fighter armed with only the butterfly knives would have difficulty fighting against an opponent armed with a spear.
2006   Daily Tel. 28 July 8/5   We disarmed two men, one with a bottle..and one with a butterfly knife.

1970—2006(Hide quotations)


  butterfly lupus n. lupus erythematosus which causes a rash on the bridge of the nose and the adjacent parts of the cheeks; cf. butterfly rash n.

1879   W. T. Fox & T. C. Fox Epitome Skin Dis. (Amer. ed. 2) ii. 136   Often there is a patch under each eye, and if these bridge together and form a junction over the nose, the appearance of a butterfly is produced, hence the term butterfly lupus.
1949   Hygeia July 504/1   The uncommon lupus erythematosus, or butterfly lupus,..has frequently been known to follow sunburn.
2018   @rosemurray 2 Jan. in twitter.com (O.E.D. Archive)    I had ‘butterfly lupus’ as a child, missed a LOT of school.

1879—2018(Hide quotations)


  butterfly net   n. a hand-held net with a fine mesh and a long handle, used to catch butterflies; also figurative, esp. denoting such a net fancifully imagined as being used to catch a person and escort them to a psychiatric hospital.

1806   J. Sowerby Brit. Misc. I. 95   Perhaps a butterfly-net might be used with success about banks where we observe many burrows of insects.
1827   M. Wilmot Jrnl. 25 July in More Lett. (1935) 278   Edmund and Wilmot amused themselves with their butterfly nets.
1939   T. S. Eliot Family Reunion ii. i. 77   The day I lost my butterfly net.
1983   W. Goldman Adventures in Screen Trade 88   You can pray that the man with the butterfly net catches up to that kid before he does permanent damage.
1998   Time 19 Jan. 30/1   Another chaotic week ends, leaving Miamians to wonder how long before the white-suited men with butterfly nets come to take the mayor away.
2017   Washington Post (Nexis) 30 Mar. t16   If I find a fly in the house, I catch it in a butterfly net and set it free.

1806—2017(Hide quotations)


  butterfly nose   n. a dog's nose when spotted or mottled.

1878   Country 11 May 39/1   A light- colored (‘Dudley’) or a parti-colored (‘butterfly’) nose is especially objected to.
1937   Amer. Kennel Gaz. 1 Sept. 46/1   When we have a hunting breed to appraise, a butterfly nose must be rated just as keen scented as a nose of normal color.
2002   J. Cunliffe Encycl. Dog Breeds (new ed.) 36/1   A butterfly nose, sometimes called a spotted nose, is considered an undesirable nose colour in many breeds.

1878—2002(Hide quotations)


  butterfly nut   n. a nut having two flat projections, thought to resemble wings, on either side which allow the nut to be turned by hand; = wing-nut at wing n. Compounds 1a(e).

1849   Repertory Patent Inventions Enlarged Ser. 13 384   A screw-pin..with a wide head above, and a butterfly nut below.
1925   Morris Owner's Man. 71   Under the butterfly nut at the back of the bonnet hinge.
2011   A. R. Edwards Slope Kongwa Hill xv. 181   It was an uncomfortable crossbar to ride, due to the butterfly nut located at a tactically inopportune place.

1849—2011(Hide quotations)


  butterfly rash   n. Medicine a rash confined mainly to the bridge of the nose and the adjacent parts of the cheeks, seen especially in lupus erythematosus and in rosacea and certain other skin disorders; cf. butterfly lupus n.The likeness of the shape of the rash to that of a butterfly was first pointed out by the Austrian dermatologist Ferdinand von Hebra in 1845 or 1846.

[1871   A. Pullar tr. I. Neumann Text-bk. Skin Dis. 253   The efflorescence becomes confluent, and on the nose and cheeks, the patch assumes the form of a butterfly,—the body being represented by the nose,—the wings by the cheeks.]
1895   St. Bartholomew's Hosp. Rep. 31 310   Three photographs..taken of a man aged 45, showing the characteristic ‘butterfly’ rash of Lupus Erythematosus.
1969   Hutchinson (Kansas) News 23 July 22/1   Butterfly rashes occur from other causes [than rosacea].
2007   D. S. Smith Field Guide Bedside Diagnosis (ed. 2) lxxv. 178   A classic butterfly rash occurs in 40% [of cases of systemic lupus erythematosus] and is exacerbated by sun exposure.

1895—2007(Hide quotations)


  butterfly screw   n. a bolt having two flat protections, thought to resemble wings, either side of the head which allow the bolt to be turned by hand.

1861   Welcome Guest 4 342/1   The attendant then slips the breastplate over his head..and, with butterfly screws, covered by a vulcanized India-rubber band, fastens it to the dress.
1916   New Phytologist 15 195   By means of the butterfly screws they can be screwed tightly so that no movement of the individual blocks is possible.
2000   Sunday Times (Nexis) 25 June   Quirky taste can be yours as long as you know how to fit a butterfly screw properly.

1861—2000(Hide quotations)


  butterfly-shaped adj. Botany (of a flower) having a corolla arranged in a form resembling a butterfly; (also) denoting such a corolla; esp. as characteristic of leguminous plants (cf. papilionaceous adj. 2).

1763   J. Wheeler Botanist's & Gardener's New Dict. p. xxiii   The corolla is papilionaceous, or of the butterfly-shaped kind.
1880   Girl's Own Paper 29 May 349/2   The pea tribe, with butterfly-shaped flowers (leguminosæ) has nearly seven thousand species in it.
1979   Trop. Legumes: Resources for Future (National Acad. Sci.–National Res. Council (U.S.)) vii. 261   Copious clusters of scarlet, butterfly-shaped blossoms appear in bunches along the branches.
2014   Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (Metro ed.) (Nexis) 16 July e1   Moth orchids are prized for their long-lasting, butterfly-shaped flowers.

1763—2014(Hide quotations)


  butterfly stitch   n.  (a) any of various stitches used in knitting, crochet, etc., to make a butterfly pattern;  (b) a type of (adhesive) plaster consisting of a thin strip with two wider ends, used to hold the edges of a wound together; cf. Compounds 1a(c).

1891   Ladies' Home Jrnl. Sept. 19/2 (heading)    An Infant's Dress Yoke. Butterfly Stitch.
1941   San Antonio (Texas) Express 1 Apr. 7/2   This sweater is knitted in the new butterfly stitch. It is easy to make and as dainty as it is durable.
1945   U.S. Naval Med. Bull. 44 588   Swelling and suppuration occurred..which made it necessary to remove the remaining sutures and substitute a butterfly stitch.
2009   L. Zukaite LuxeKnits Introd. 7   You'll..discover something new..about smocking stitch, herringbone pattern, butterfly stitch, [etc.].
2016   Guardian (Nexis) 20 Mar.   A..gash along his nose..bound..by a set of butterfly stitches which added a flash of bright white to his rainbow array of bruises.

1891—2016(Hide quotations)


  butterfly stomach   n. a fluttering sensation felt in the stomach as a result of nervousness or apprehensive excitement; cf. sense to have butterflies in the stomach at sense 1b, butterfly tummy n.

1943   Word Study Oct. 6/1   The expression some aviators use to describe their condition before taking off. They have ‘butterfly stomach’, they say, so marked is the fluttering in the Department of the Interior.
1997   Burlington (N. Carolina) Times-News 13 Feb. b1   There were enough exciting games to guarantee at least one case of butterfly stomach per week.
2011   Examiner (Launceston, Tasmania) (Nexis) 25 Nov. 4   Filmmaker Luke Doolan confessed to suffering a ‘butterfly stomach’ while his new short film Cryo had its world premiere.

1943—2011(Hide quotations)


  butterfly sword   n. a short sword with a single sharp edge, typically one of a pair, used in wing chun and certain other forms of kung fu; frequently also known as butterfly knife (see butterfly knife n. (b)).  [After Chinese húdié shuāngdāo lit. ‘butterfly double knife (or sword)’ (see butterfly knife n.).]

1974   V. Glaessner Kung Fu: Cinema of Vengeance iii. 21/2   Twin butterfly swords, sticks and staves, daggers and the whole repertoire of more fanciful weaponry..displayed.
1993   Sunday Mail (Queensland) (Nexis) 3 Oct. (caption)    Collette uses butterfly swords to fend off Zoe, wielding a three-section staff as father Michael looks on.
2015   B. N. Judkins & J. Nielson Creation Wing Chun ii. 94   The ‘double swords’ noted..are the direct ancestors of the hudiedao (or butterfly swords) that are still used in Wing Chun, Choy Li Fut, and Hung Gar today.

1974—2015(Hide quotations)


  butterfly table   n. orig. North American a kind of drop-leaf table having wing-shaped supports for the table leaves.

1901   E. Singleton Furnit. of Forefathers III. 202   An oval table of oak, of rough work... The design is now popularly called the ‘butterfly table’.
1925   Amer. Mercury Mar. 355/2   When little butterfly tables, so called, with warped maple tops, sell for $575 apiece, it is their age and rarity which bring the extravagant price.
1994   Canad. Workshop July 59/1   I built this double drop-leaf table—sometimes called a butterfly table—as a birthday present for my wife.

1901—1994(Hide quotations)


  butterfly tie   n. a bow tie; (spec.) = butterfly bow n.

1865   Daily Cleveland (Ohio) Herald 9 Mar. (advt.)    Butterfly Ties, (for Paper Collars).
1887   E. Custer Tenting on Plains (1889) xv. 502   It was then the fashion for men to wear a tiny neck-bow, called a butterfly tie.
1914   G. K. Chesterton Wisdom of Father Brown xi. 264   A very young gentleman with..a black butterfly tie.
2007   Internat. Herald Tribune (Nexis) 16 Jan. 9   Black-and-white butterfly ties with formal evening wear looked spirited.

1865—2007(Hide quotations)


  butterfly tummy   n. a fluttering sensation felt in the stomach as a result of nervousness or apprehensive excitement; cf. to have butterflies in the stomach at sense 1b, butterfly stomach n.

1941   Big Spring (Texas) Daily Herald 17 Apr. 7/3   Two players with ‘butterfly tummy’—that sinking feeling which strikes on the first tee—were paired today at the quarter-finals of the Texas Women's Golf association tournament.
1969   Janesville (Wisconsin) Gaz. 9 July 6/7   With the proverbial sweating palms and butterfly tummy, I taxied to the end of the runway, did everything I was supposed to, added a big swallow and started rolling.
2007   Sunday Times (Nexis) 28 Jan. (Mag.) 42   We swept straight up to the VIP lounge, breathless with a mix of cheek-reddening embarrassment and butterfly-tummy excitement.

1941—2007(Hide quotations)


  butterfly valve   n.  (a) a pair of flap valves consisting of a single piece of flexible material (typically leather) fastened down in the middle to form a hinge (obsolete);  (b) a valve that is opened and closed by the rotation of a rigid disc having a spindle running through its centre.

1809   W. Nicholson Brit. Encycl. III. at Hydraulics   The butterfly-valve..varies from the two former, in having two semicircular flaps appended by hinges to a bar passing over the centre of the excavated piston.
1889   W. J. Baldwin Hot-water Heating & Fitting xxv. 328   Nothing but a gate valve should be tolerated in the main pipes of an apparatus unless it is a butterfly valve of good design.
1911   A. M. Greene Pumping Machinery vi. 289   A double clack valve..is sometimes called a butterfly valve.
2003   New Yorker 1 Sept. 98/1   ‘They're called butterfly valves’, he said of the sluices inside the cylinder.

1809—2003(Hide quotations)

 b. In the names of animals and plants.

  butterfly blenny   n. a small blenny (fish) of the north-east Atlantic, Blennius ocellaris (family Blenniidae), having a long dorsal fin, the tall anterior part of which is marked with a prominent eyespot.

1838   J. Wilson Introd. Nat. Hist. Fishes 192/2   Of these we may mention the butterfly blenny (B[lennius] ocellaris), distinguished by having the dorsal bi-lobed, the anterior lobe being very elevated, and marked with a round black spot.
1959   A. Hardy Fish & Fisheries x. 213   The beautiful little butterfly blenny..which is not uncommon to the south west.
2006   Independent on Sunday (Nexis) 19 Mar. (Sport section) 74   A mighty 1oz 4dr butterfly blenny, the proud trophy of Cliff Williams, who will surely never forget that momentous day off Weymouth.

1838—2006(Hide quotations)


  butterfly bush   n. any of various buddleias (genus Buddleja), esp. B. davidii, widely cultivated as garden plants for their panicles of sweet-smelling white, purple, or pink flowers that are attractive to butterflies.

1895   E. B. Walling Phebe 1   The big butterfly-bush that overhangs the brook.
1937   Washington Post 18 Apr. x9/7   Among the best of summer blooming shrubs for borders..are the kinds of Buddleia, or butterfly bush.
2013   New Yorker 14 Oct. 52/2   If you cut a butterfly bush down to nothing it grows back the next year twice as high.

1895—2013(Hide quotations)


  butterflyfish   n.  (a) the butterfly blenny, Blennius ocellaris (obsolete);  (b) New Zealand a large deep-water tuna, Gasterochisma melampus, with fan-like pelvic fins;  (c) a small African freshwater fish, Pantodon buchholzi (family Pantodontidae), with large pectoral fins used in leaping out of the water;  (d) any of numerous brightly coloured or boldly marked reef fishes of the family Chaetodontidae, esp. the genus Chaetodon, popular in marine aquaria.

1686   F. Willughby & J. Ray De Hist. Piscium iv. xix. 131   Blennus Salviani, an fortasse etiam Bellonii..The Butterfly-fish.
1740   R. Brookes Art of Angling ii. vi. 187   The Butterfly-Fish is often exposed to sale at Venice among other small Fish.
1898   E. E. Morris Austral Eng. 74   Butterfly-fish... New Zealand sea-fish, Gasterochisma melampus... The ventral fins are exceedingly broad and long.
1931   E. G. Boulenger Fishes vii. 78   A strange member of this Order is the Butterfly Fish (Pantodon buchholzi ) of the brooks of West Africa.
1957   A. W. Parrott Sea Angler's Fishes N.Z. 156   The Butterfly Fish is also known as the Scaled Tunny, and is closely related to the Bonito and Albacore.
1975   T. Brooke-Taylor et al. Goodies' Bk. Criminal Rec. 35/2   The delicate Four-Eyed Butterfly Fish, so popular with fanciers in Crawley.
1997   G. S. Helfman et al. Diversity of Fishes xvi. 288/1   Other osteoglossomorphs include the African freshwater butterflyfish Pantodon (Pantodontidae).
2010   Trop. Fish Feb. 26/1   The threadfin is readily available and is one of the more popular butterflyfish.

1686—2010(Hide quotations)


  butterfly flower   n.  [in sense (a)   probably after post-classical Latin Papilionaceae (plural): see papilionaceous adj.]  (a) a papilionaceous flower; a plant producing such a flower; cf. papilionaceous adj. 2;  (b) any of various plants of the genus Schizanthus (family Solanaceae), which are widely cultivated as garden plants for their bright, multicoloured flowers; (also) a flower of such a plant; cf. poor man's orchid n. at poor man n. Compounds 2a;  (c) any of various plants having flowers which are attractive to butterflies or pollinated by butterflies; a flower of such a plant.

1731   P. Miller Gardeners Dict. I. at Commelina   A flower, which consists of two Leaves, which are plac'd in the Form of two Wings, much after the manner of the Butterfly Flowers.
1853   Gardeners' Chron. 5 Feb. 84/3   For extreme gaiety, what can equal a well-grown specimen of Schizanthus! The plants..are..densely covered with little butterfly flowers.
1879   J. S. Hibberd Familiar Garden Flowers 1st Ser. Synopsis p. ix   The 'papilionaceous' or butterfly flowers represent an enormous natural order.
1881   F. Darwin in Nature 10 Feb. 334/1   It seems impossible to believe that a butterfly-flower could be developed under such circumstances.
1903   Amer. Naturalist 37 476   Other red butterfly flowers are species of Silene, Lychnis and Primula.
1929   Amer. Midland Naturalist 11 417   Schizanthus retusus Hook. Butterfly flower.
1956   L. S. Wolfe Agric. Unadorned 19   A legume is a plant that bears pods like the pea or bean and produces a characteristic butterfly flower.
2000   P. Schappert World for Butterflies iv. 192   ‘Butterfly flowers’ have relatively deep corollas that suit the length of an uncoiled proboscis.
2007   Daily Tel. (Nexis) 28 July (Gardening section) 1   Schizanthus, otherwise known as poor man's orchid or the butterfly flower,..is a new discovery for me.

1731—2007(Hide quotations)


  butterfly lily   n.  (a) a mariposa lily (genus Calochortus); = butterfly tulip n.;  (b) a ginger lily (genus Hedychium, family Zingiberaceae); esp. H. coronarium.

1880   V. Rattan Pop. Calif. Flora (ed. 2) 118   C[alochortus] uniflorus,..Stem very short, bulbiferous... Mariposa. Butterfly Lily.
1885   Gardener's Mag. 28 608/1   The most beautiful flower I have seen in Jamaica is the wild ginger... The natives call it the ‘butterfly lily’, for the upper petals are in shape something like the expanded wings of a large white butterfly.
1902   V. K. Chesnut Plants used by Indians Calif. 323   Calochortus venustus..the commonest species of the Mariposa or butterfly lilies.
1970   Daily Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi) 3 Aug. 15/3   The Butterfly Lily (Hedychium)..can tolerate wet soil.
2014   J. L. Lowry Calif. Foraging 77/2   You can serve unusual vegetables to your guests while amazing the neighbors with the beauty of your butterfly lilies.

1880—2014(Hide quotations)


  butterfly lobster   n. any decapod crustacean of the family Scyllaridae, with a broad, flattened body; spec. the small Ibacus peronii, found in coastal waters of Australia.

1880   L. A. Meredith Tasmanian Friends & Foes 248   ‘Butterfly lobsters’..the shell of the head and body..expands into something like wing-forms.
1966   Austral. Fisheries Newsletter May 25   The zoological tribe Scyllaridea comprises two families, the Palinuridae, commonly known as marine crayfish or spiny lobsters and the Scyllaridae, or butterfly lobsters.
2007   W. R. Webber & J. D. Booth in K. L. Lavalli & E. Spanier Biol. & Fisheries Slipper Lobster ii. 26   The scyllarid lobsters have attracted an interesting variety of common names... These names include slipper lobsters, shovel-nosed lobsters, squat lobsters, butterfly lobsters.

1880—2007(Hide quotations)


  butterfly orchid   n. any of various orchids, esp. of the genera Psychopsis and Platanthera, having flowers thought to resemble a butterfly in shape; also with distinguishing word.Cf. butterfly orchis n., butterfly plant n.

1851   Gardeners' Chron. 6 Sept. 564/2   Oncidium Papilio, the butterfly Orchid, from Trinidad, flowers in succession nearly all the year round.
1935   Oakland (Calif.) Tribune 19 Mar. b18/2 (caption)    A rare butterfly orchid which will be on display at the California Spring Garden Show.
1996   R. Mabey Flora Britannica 441/2   Greater butterfly-orchid, Platanthera chloranthera [sic] and lesser butterfly-orchid, P. bifolia , are white-flowered species whose blooms are strongly fragrant at night.
2002   P. Benshoff Myakka vii. 145   These large trees are covered with butterfly orchids.

1851—2002(Hide quotations)


  butterfly orchis   n. now rare a butterfly orchid; esp. Platanthera bifolia or P. chlorantha.

1597   J. Gerard Herball i. 165   Ornithophora Candida. Butter-flie Orchis.
1629   J. Parkinson Paradisi in Sole xxii. 192 (heading)    Orchis Hermaphroditica candida, the white Butterflie Orchis.
1757   Philos. Trans. 1756 (Royal Soc.) 49 850   The lesser Butterfly Orchis. Sparingly in some inclosures near Buddon Wood.
1851   Chambers' Edinb. Jrnl. 12 July 16/2   I never see the butterfly orchis without being reminded by it of some tall fair girl, whose growth has overshot her strength.
1996   Garden Design Feb. 93   There is a first lighting up of wild roses on the wood-edge, pink and white, and of purple orchis and butterfly-orchis.

1597—1996(Hide quotations)


  butterfly pea   n. any of several tropical leguminous plants of the genera Clitoria and Centrosema, esp. Clitoria ternatea, which are native to the Americas and Asia and have papilionaceous flowers; cf. pea-flower n. 2.

1848   A. Gray Man. Bot. Northern U.S. 106   Clitoria..Butterfly Pea. Calyx tubular, 5-toothed... Centrosema..Spurred Butterfly Pea. Calyx short, 5-cleft.
1888   Bot. Gaz. 13 269   Along the roadsides..were great quantities of the showy flowers of the Butterfly peas, Clitoria Mariana and Centrosema Virginiana.
1977   Country Life 6 Jan. 15/3   No greenhouse is complete without a climber, and one to try this year is the butterfly pea, Clitoria ternatea.
2013   Business Times (Singapore) 14 Sept.   An accompanying side of fragrant, slightly sweet rice tinged blue with butterfly pea flowers.

1848—2013(Hide quotations)


  butterfly plant   n.  (a) a butterfly orchid (now rare);  (b) any of various plants of the genus Schizanthus (family Solanaceae), which are widely cultivated for their bright, multicoloured flowers; cf. butterfly flower n. (b);  (c) any of various plants having flowers which are attractive to butterflies or pollinated by butterflies.

1825   J. Lindley in Bot. Reg. 11 910   The Butterfly-plant of Santa Cruz, described by West.
1882   Garden 11 Feb. 91/2   Butterfly plants (Schizanthus) are a charming class of annuals.
1891   Cornhill Mag. Aug. 171   The butterfly-plants of the butterfly-zone are all strictly adapted to butterfly tastes and butterfly fancies.
1909   Strand Mag. Aug. 116/2   The butterfly plant (Oncidium papilio), one of the weirdest and most extraordinary of orchid flowers known.
1961   Harvey (Illinois) Tribune 18 July 10/1   A bower overflowing with hanging baskets containing Schizanthus, the butterfly plant.
1985   Spectator 28 Sept. 7/3   Small tortoiseshells and speckled woods flutter over the ‘butterfly plants’, buddleia and sedum.
2004   Chicago Tribune (Midwest ed.) 13 June iv. 2/1   There's an advantage to having some thistle but parsley and bronze fennel are better. They're all butterfly plants that offer nectar and chewy leaves.

1825—2004(Hide quotations)


  butterfly ray   n. any of the short-tailed rays of the genus Gymnura and family Gymnuridae, of warm seas, having very broad and flat pectoral fins.It is uncertain what fish is denoted in quot. 1865.

1865   A. G. L'Estrange Yachting W. of Eng. xi. 287   Here [sc. off Cornwall] was also the butterfly ray; the rare blenny with its long dorsal fin; [etc.].
1877   H. C. Dorner Guide N.Y. Aquarium 58   The Butterfly Ray. (Pteroplatea maclura). Above, the color is greenish blue, with pale spots, below, it is pale red.
1931   J. R. Norman Hist. Fishes xvi. 325   The Butterfly Rays (Pteroplatea).
2016   P. R. Last et al. Rays of World xxiv. 520   Gymnura tentaculata... Diet probably based on teleosts, like other butterfly rays.

1865—2016(Hide quotations)


  butterfly shell   n. the shell of various marine molluscs, esp. (formerly) of gastropods of the genus Voluta, and (in later use) of bivalve clams of the genus Donax; (also) the mollusc itself.

1831   Webster Dict. Eng. Lang. I.   Butterfly-shell, n. A genus of Testaceous Molluscas, with a spiral unilocular shell; called voluta.
1939   Astounding Sci. Fiction Nov. 105/2   The small yellow clam locally called a butterfly-shell seems to be a favorite victim.
2013   Guardian (Nexis) 9 Mar. (Review section) 20   She was walking along the shoreline under a pale sun gathering butterfly shells.

1831—2013(Hide quotations)


  butterfly snail   n. any of the pelagic gastropod molluscs of the group Pteropoda, which have wing-like flaps that are used in swimming; a sea butterfly.

1876   E. R. Lankester tr. Haeckel Hist. Creation II. xix. 162   The Stump-headed Snails (Perocephala) are very closely allied..to the Cuttle-fish (through the Butterfly-snails).
1929   H. G. Wells et al. Sci. of Life II. vi. i. 556/2   A whalebone whale swims its devouring way through swarms of little crustacea or butterfly-snails, taking ten thousand at a gulp.
2008   T. Soper Wildlife of North Atlantic 14   The butterfly snail is a shell-less ‘naked pteropod’ which may grow to as much as 36mm in length.

1876—2008(Hide quotations)


  butterfly tulip   n. a mariposa lily (genus Calochortus); cf. butterfly lily n.

1860   Hutching's Calif. Mag. May 486/2   The beautiful Butterfly Tulip, or Calochortus venustus.
1937   Times 26 Apr. 17/3   They carried sheaves of pale pink roses, delphiniums, and butterfly-tulips.
2001   People (Nexis) 4 Mar. (Features section) 38   The butterfly tulip (Calochortus amabilis) is a brilliant yellow flower with a deep purple spot on each petal.

1860—2001(Hide quotations)


  butterfly weed   n. chiefly U.S. any of several North American flowering plants, spec. the orange milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, which has clusters of sweetly-scented orange or yellow flowers that are attractive to butterflies.Also called pleurisy root.

1798   B. S. Barton Coll. Ess. towards Materia Medica U.S. 48   It [sc. Asclepias decumbens] is called Butterfly-weed, &c. because its flowers are often visited by the butterflies.
1830   J. Lindley Introd. Nat. Syst. Bot. 213   Butterfly weed is a popular remedy in the United States for a variety of disorders.
1969   D. F. Costello Prairie World (1975) ii. 24   The flaming orange umbels of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa ), blooming late in the year, add to the magic of the autumn flora.
2015   Bedford (Pa.) Gaz. 30 June 12   Butterfly weed likes full sun, so it's no wonder it does well along the highways and byways of North America from the Rockies eastward.

1798—2015(Hide quotations)




  ˈbutterflydom   n. the state or condition of being a butterfly (in various senses); the world of butterflies.

1863   All Year Round 7 Mar. 39/2   His transition condition, before he develops into the full-grown butterflydom of the box, is lifted several hundred feet above his ordinary social altitude.
1882   H. C. Merivale Faucit of Balliol II. ii. vii. 240   The world in all its aspects bore the pleasant face of butterflydom.
1911   Suburban Life Aug. 84/2   When several choice bits of butterflydom had eluded my grasp, behold the masculine element enters and demands—‘Give me that net.’
2009   N.Y. Times (Nexis) 11 Dec. c37   ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, about a larva munching its way to butterflydom.

1863—2009(Hide quotations)


butterflyism   n. Obsolete the state or condition of being a butterfly (in figurative sense); frivolous behaviour; giddiness.

1833   T. Hook Parson's Daughter I. xiii. 277   Having cast his skin and burst from the chrysalism of a commander on half-pay into the splendid butterflyism of a barony.
1866   S. G. Osborne Lett. on Educ. 25   That great amount of butterflyism of which we see so much in after-life.
1910   J. J. Holm Holm's Race Assimilation xv. 343   The age of frivolousness and butterflyism among them is fast passing away.

1833—1910(Hide quotations)


  ˈbutterfly-like adj. and adv.  (a) adj. resembling a butterfly or resembling that of a butterfly;  (b) adv. in the manner of a butterfly.

1706   G. London & H. Wise Retir'd Gard'ner II. vi. ix. 736   At the end of the Branches appears a Butterfly-like Flower.
1753   J. Lockman Proper Answer to Vile Libel 6   He, Butterfly-like,..was perpetually whisking from his Desk; whispering to, and tampering with the several Tradesmen.
1878   R. Browning La Saisiaz in La Saisiaz: Two Poets of Croisic 53   The bard born to bask Butterfly-like in shine which kings and queens And baby-dauphins shed.
1947   R. T. Peterson Field Guide Birds East of Rockies (ed. 2) 208   The Redstart is one of the most butterfly-like of birds.
1984   R. M. Pyle Audubon Soc. Handbk. for Butterfly Watchers xvii. 205   While butterflies hold their wings vertically over their backs, and most moths fold them roof-like, geometrids hold them butterfly-like.
2005   Weekly World News May 31/3   The slightly chewed-up creature..is described as female and six inches tall, with pointy ears and butterfly-like wings.

1706—2005(Hide quotations)


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