Names for a Flying Insect

As we departed Yosemite via Wawona, we passed through Mariposa County. There was a Ping! in my mind’s word bank as I recalled my delight on first discovering that this word means BUTTERFLY in Spanish. I think it is a very showy word, as is butterfly. But years before I learned the Spanish word, I was taken with the French: papillon, pronounced roughly, pap-ee-yón (with that nasaly French on.) How fancy! Schmetterling is the German, pretty much phonetic as it looks, and a happy word that is to say, with its ling at the end. That’s as far as I can go with the comparisons. When I look up the word in other languages, either they are not so flamboyant or I don’t know how to pronounce them.

I find it charming that these several words from different people groups hint at some particular quality of this insect, a creature that should belong in its own category far removed from cockroaches or houseflies–too complicated for just one or two syllables, and worthy of taking a little extra trouble with the tongue, in order to give honor to its glory. Mariposa has a second meaning I just found in my dictionary: night light. Now isn’t that a lovely evolution?

Rather than give you a repeat picture of a butterfly in my garden, I am posting here the Butterfly Nebula. Way out there where the fragile flutterer could not survive, the image of its elusive beauty can still be brought to mind.

2 thoughts on “Names for a Flying Insect

  1. I had already imagined you butterflying, flitting and fluttering around, happy in the mountains before you shared your language “lovelys” and wonderful analogies…thank you for the gift in words. May you land happily in your own garden, content after the granduer, in but one bloom at a time.

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  2. Mariposa IS a magic word. I embroidered “butterfly” on a pair of jeans when I was in college just because I loved the word. I've seen photographs of artists who made themselves wings so they could be a butterfly – shawls and other items. Thank you for the Butterfly Nebula. Smile.

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