Why are butterflies butterflies ?
And have been since Old English ?
And no, the Saxons didn’t call them ‘flutter-bys’,
Despite our wish.
Some are yellow, sure, but only some,
And gardens host more than a dairy –
Perhaps it’s simply fanciful and rum,
Like ladybirds are named for Mary.
P’raps the word trangresses,
Metamorphed from ones for ‘beat’ or ‘bug’ ?
But these are only ever guesses
Answered only with a shrug.
Other just-so tales are told,
Like witches flying in disguise –
But nobody, however bold,
Can pin down butterflies.
Yet why should language be so artful ?
Let it keep its logic pure,
Or else, like poets by the cartful,
All we get is endless metaphor.
But other lands are just as likely
To endow them with a role –
The Greeks would call them psyche,
Which they also called the soul,
And Romans said papilio,
The Portugese say borboleta –
What they mean, though, we don’t know,
And your guess is no worse or better.
Spanish use of mariposa
Means ‘Maria, up and fly’ !
Italian farfalla shows a
Meaning shared with a bow-tie.
The Germans call one Schmetterling
For ‘cream-lette’, and the Russian word
Is babochka, for ‘grandma-on-the-wing’ –
Now this has got absurd !
Yet why should language be so frugal ?
Let it flash its colours high –
Or else, like Danish sommerfugl
All we get’s a literal ‘summer-fly’.