Definition of butterfly in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈbədərˌflī/

noun (plural butterflies)

1An insect with two pairs of large wings that are covered with tiny scales, usually brightly colored, and typically held erect when at rest. Butterflies fly by day, have clubbed or dilated antennae, and usually feed on nectar.
  • Superfamilies Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea, order Lepidoptera: several families. Formerly placed in a grouping known as the Rhopalocera. Compare with moth.
Example sentences
  • The Peaks are also a stronghold for the striking green hairstreak butterfly and the emperor moth, which feeds on heather.
  • In the windows passers-by will see a plethora of wildlife, including butterflies, insects and moths, which have lived in the building at one point in its history.
  • This is a bacteria that is only harmful to Lepidoptera - butterflies and moths.
1.1A showy or frivolous person: a social butterfly
More example sentences
  • Are you kind of a social butterfly, do you think?
  • I not a social butterfly per se, but I like to go out.
  • I always had friends, but I was never a social butterfly.
1.2 (butterflies) informal A fluttering and nauseated sensation felt in the stomach when one is nervous.
Example sentences
  • Nervous butterflies fluttered in her stomach every time a messenger or lower official left Orwell's tent for fear that it might be Smith.
  • Marie shook her head; trying to ward off the butterflies fluttering nervously about in her stomach.
  • I'm not yet a good driver, nor a completely confident one but at least the idea of doing it no longer sets butterflies fluttering in my stomach.
nerves, anxiety, the jitters
1.3 (in full butterfly stroke) [in singular] A stroke in swimming in which both arms are raised out of the water and lifted forward together.
Example sentences
  • Her only weak stroke was the butterfly, and this stood in the way of her improving in the IM events.
  • She is also the only woman to have won golds in three different strokes - freestyle, backstroke and butterfly.
  • Performing drills that focus on breathing, timing and acceleration can help a swimmer grasp the finer points of swimming butterfly.
1.4 [as modifier] Having a two-lobed shape resembling the spread wings of a butterfly: a butterfly clip
More example sentences
  • When you stand and look down at the seed bed you see butterfly shapes strung along a black pipe, for the water has gently washed the ground into four linked circles at each irrigation point.
  • All the bauhinias have two-lobed butterfly leaves.
  • Tina Hyland was wearing butterfly clips in her hair.

verb (butterflies, butterflying, butterflied)

[with object]
Split (a piece of meat) almost in two and spread it out flat: (as adjective butterflied) butterflied shrimp
More example sentences
  • We decided to go with the 12-pounder and the man cut its head off, cut its tail off, shaved off the scales, butterflied it and deboned it.
  • So I butterflied it - yielding two pieces that were about 1/2 an inch thick.
  • Go to your local butcher and ask for two tenderloin steaks to be butterflied to about a one centimetre thickness.


Old English, from butter + fly2; perhaps from the cream or yellow color of common species, or from an old belief that the insects stole butter.

  • The word butter has been known in Britain since Saxon times. It goes back to Greek bouturon, and before that possibly to the Scythians, an ancient people from the area of the Black Sea. The butterfly may get its name from the brimstone butterfly and other yellow or cream-coloured butterflies. The idea of likening a feeling of nervousness to having a butterfly or butterflies in one's stomach dates from the early 20th century, though the exact formulation butterflies in one's stomach is not recorded before the 1950s. The boxing strategy of Muhammad Ali was famously described as ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’. The quote first appeared in The Cassius Clay Story (1964—Cassius Clay was Ali's original name), and is thought to have been coined by Ali's trainer Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown. See also chaos

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: but·ter·fly

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