The short answer is – likely not.
Firstly, why is a ‘butterfly’ called a ‘butterfly’? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, though the etymology is quite old, the reason for its name is unknown. However, two possible derivations are offered. 1) The word is from the Anglo-Saxon butterfleoge (literally, butterfly) so-called after the yellow species of Papilionoidea. 2) Butterflies were on the wing in meadows during the spring and summer butter season while the grass was growing.
If you’re a believer in the tales of old wives or fairies, there’s the notion that butterflies are witches in disguise who consume butter that is left uncovered. As for the word ‘flutterby,’ it’s been suggested that it’s simply the case of a child’s habit of transposing syllables, like ‘basketti’ for spaghetti, and ‘pillercat’ for caterpillar.
Literary references to ‘flutterby’ are very few. One example is from Nonsense, an 1867 book by American journalist, Marcus M. (Brick) Pomeroy:
Beautiful as a flutterby,
And none could compare
With my pretty little charmer
And her rich, wavy hair.
Whether butterfly or flutterby, there’s no reason both can’t be used. To those who object, you can simply state, “You’re not the boss of me.” The flying insect has also been used as a colorful metaphor and apropos descriptor for a very long time. They include:
- Vain and gaudy attire – 1600
- A transformation from a lowly state – 1806
- A type of mechanical nut – 1869
- Flitting tendencies – 1873
- One-act play Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan, New York – 1900
- Socially extroverted female (opposite of wallflower)
- Anxiety, nervousness – 1908
- A swimming stroke – 1935
- Predictability; cause and effect – 1972
Interested in more posts about peculiar words? Check out the awesome history of the word dude, why Americans prefer the word rooster, or what the word jaywalker actually means!
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Check out A Telling Story Productions on Youtube or Donald’s English Classroom for audio readings of some of your favorite fairy tales! They’re great for storytime, bedtime, and when traveling with kids!