Tales from the Chautauqua: Butterfly
The daily thunderstorms and rain showers in Colorado this summer have led to a profusion of grasses, flowers and bugs; the most prominent bugs are one of the flying kinds — butterflies. Every day is a new adventure trying to identify the latest butterflies from the guidebooks.
Because Butterfly is such an old word, many people have no idea when someone may have first said, “That ‘thing’ over there is a‘butterfly‘.”
One story that has floated around the internet is that butterflies were given their name because people in medieval times thought that butterflies, or witches which took on the shape of butterflies, stole milk and cream, which they churned into butter.
Others believe that the name was “flutter flies” and was switched to butterflies so that the name was easier to hear with the percussive primary letter B. Yet the way these insects float and flutter is always a marvelous thing to watch. Even with a net they are hard to catch as they flutter in random directions all the time. In the wind they don’t seem to mind the erratic moves from side to side and up and down.
It seems more believable that butterflies are named after the color of yellow, which is associated with the mineral sulfur. Many of the most visible species of butterflies are yellow, but that observation may be a coincidence.