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