Saturday, October 18, 2008

creamling

Over at Bradshaw of the Future, goofy has a post about the etymology of butterfly (link). I looked in a bunch of books and googled about online, and here’s some of the stuff I ran across.

  • The idea of butterflies stealing milk or butter is is connected with a dialectal German word for the insect Molkendieb ‘milk-thief’. I found a great collection of German archaic and dialect words for butterfly (link). Some connect schmetterling with the German Schmetten ‘cream’, cf. Schmand ‘sour cream’, Czech. smetana, but others with the verb schmettern ‘to gossip, prattle; dash (in sports)’.
  • The Dutch word butterschijte ‘butter-shit’ has a curious parallel in Slavic: Russian мотыль, Polish motyl, et al. Here’s what Vasmer has to say about its etymology Wohl aus ‘Mistfalter’ mit -jo-Bildung zu aruss. motyla f. motylo n. ‘Mist’, ksl. motylo κοπρος r.-kslav. Motylьnikъ κοπρωνυμος (s. Srezn. Wb. 2, 179), das zu abg. metǫ, mesti ‘werfen, fegen’ gehört, vgl. MiEW. 194, Meillet MSL. 14, 333, Brandt RFV. 22, 156 (nach ihm: ‘sich hin- u. herwerfen’), Brückner KZ. 42, 342ff. (als ‘Krautscheißer’).
  • Pokorny IEW p.801: Wörter für ‘Schmetterling’: redupliziert lat. pāpiliō, -ōnis m. (*pā-pil-); germ. *fīfalðrōn- in aisl. fīfrildi n., ags. fīfealde, ahd. fīfaltra, mhd. fīfalter, nhd. Falter; lit. petelìškė ds., lett. petelîgs ‘flatterhaft’ (*pel-tel-); von derselben Wurzel die balto-slav. Wörter (*paipalā-) für ‘Wachtel’: lit. píepala f., lett. paîpala, apr. penpalo (dazu apr. pepelis, Pl. pippalins ‘Vogel’); čech. přepel, křepel, slov. prepeliíca (auch ‘Schmetterling’) usw. The PIE root in Pokorny is *pel- ‘to pour, flow, fill’ whence English fleet, float, and flutter. (Shades of the folk etymological flutter by.)
  • Latin pāpiliō means both butterfly and tent. (It’s from the latter meaning that our pavilion comes.) Some think there is a parallel between Greek σκηνη ‘tent, booth; stage’ and σκην ‘butterfly’. The Classical Greek word for butterfly is ψυχη and the Modern Greek word is πεταλουδα.

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2 Comments:

Blogger goofy said...

That's a lot of words for "butterfly". Pfiffhalter is an interesting one.

October 22, 2008 at 5:15 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

"Latin pāpiliō means both butterfly and tent. (It’s from the latter meaning that our pavilion comes.) Some think there is a parallel between Greek σκηνη ‘tent, booth; stage’ and σκην ‘butterfly’."

Compare also 'canopy' from Gk. 'canops', mosquito. Admittedly the sense development is different, but the derivation always struck me.

November 7, 2008 at 10:38 AM  

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