My love of butterflies began with language. One late spring day in 1997 I was on a group hike, celebrating a friend’s birthday. Someone saw a butterfly and mentioned that he liked the French word for it: “papillon.” I shared that I’d long been partial to the Spanish word, “mariposa.” I realized there were people from several countries on the hike and got curious about their words for butterfly. Before the hike was over, I knew “farfalla” (Italian), “schmetterling” (German), “falter” (also German), and “leptir” (Serbo-Croatian).
Learning words for butterfly became a hobby. I called it my “butterfly collection.” When I heard people speak with accents, prior to this interest I’d feel shy about asking where they were from, but now I had a reason to ask, and ask I did. In a few years I learned thirty-five words for butterfly.
A few of my favorite butterfly words are “babochka” (Russian), “p’ch” (Wolof, a language spoken in Senegal), and “colibangbang” (Ilocano, a language spoken in the Phillipines). I noticed that many butterfly words start with an “f,” “b,” or “p” and have an “r” for a second consonant. Examples include borboleta (Portuguese), fjäril (Swedish), farasha (Arabic), parpar (Hebrew), and paruparo (Tagalog). I mentioned this to a linguist friend, and she pointed out that the /f/, /b/, and /p/ sounds are closely related. They are all made at the front of the mouth. I find it fascinating that these languages are connected.
Over the years, my interest in butterfly words translated into a special fondness for those colorful creatures. Recently my online poetry group explored the poetry of Valerie Worth and then wrote poems inspired by her style. Butterflies were a natural topic for me. That poem is below. For plentiful links to poems and uplifting, butterfly-worthy colors, visit Jama’s Alphabet Soup. Thank you Jama for hosting Poetry Friday!
BUTTERFLY The butterfly flits, jumps around wearing its flight- fancy, color- bright suit. Something so beautiful should glide or soar maybe waltz or even sashay. But these beauties dart this way and that, as if distracted by their own brilliant wings. © Karin Fisher-Golton, 2013
This is a beautiful post Karin, and so fascinating. I also find the similarities across languages for many things intriguing. It demonstrates that observation and understanding come first. Names are tagged on as an afterthought.
Thank you, Stephen! I imagine you have a lot of opportunities to notice fascinating aspects of language. Are butterflies called “ditali” where you are?
तितली is the Hindi word for butterfly, pronounced TITaLEE. I think this sound reflects the delicate fluttering of these gentle creatures quite nicely.
Thank you! I love having it spelled in the Hindi here. Yes, I agree, the word sounds like the movement. It’s a lovely one. The Wolof word, “p’ch” sounds like the movement, too.
I enjoyed the story and your butterfly poem.
Thank you, Yael!
Delightful post — lovely poem and I enjoyed learning about your butterfly collection. Fascinating to read all those butterfly words . . . 🙂
Thank you, Jama! It’s been a great Poetry Friday–partly because I get to keep revisiting all the mango goodness on your blog. : )
Thank you for teaching me all these lovely new words for butterfly!
Beautiful poem too.
Thank you, Cathy! Nice to hear you appreciate those words, too.
I’ve long been fan of “papillon” and “mariposa” – how brilliant of you to track down a few dozen more names for butterfly in so many wonderful languages! Thanks for sharing your musings and your poem.
Oh – and what a fun welcome limerick on your home page! Thanks for sharin’!
Thanks, Robyn! Glad you appreciated extending your butterfly vocabulary, and your words about my limerick made me smile.
I love the idea of your “butterfly collection” – true collector of words! I also love the lines:
“But these beauties dart this way and that, as if distracted by their own brilliant wings.”
Thank you for sharing!=)
Thank you, Bridget! I wonder what other word collections people have.
Love the idea of collecting all of the words for butterfly. I teach at a dual language (English/Spanish) school, but I think kids would love choosing a word and finding that word in as many languages as they could.
Also love your poem. You capture the beauty of butterflies so perfectly. They should have a fancy way of moving! Thanks
Thank you, Carol! That’s such a wonderful class activity idea. I’ve thought occasionally that it would be fun to try this with a different word, but to find words alongside others doing the same sounds extra interesting. If you try it, please come back and tell me how it goes.
I love how this poem dances and especially the image of them darting this way and that as if distracted by their own brilliant wings.
Thank you! I like the idea of the poem dancing.