One of the most beautiful words in other languages is butterfly. Those wispy, colorful insects is memorizing to watch as they flutter around in the spring air. And, in each language, the words are extraordinary.
In Malaysia, Malay doesn’t have plurals like in our English language. They simply repeat the word they want plural to signify it’s plural form. Butterfly in Malay is rama-rama, and multiple butterflies are rama-rama rama-rama. The same thing is done to intensify verbs, similar to what we do when we say “I’ve got to, got to have that cupcake.” To say I love butterflies in Malay, would be:
Saya suka suka rama-rama rama-rama.
There’s some logic to this somewhere.
The Italian word for butterfly is farfalle, and that’s where the butterfly-shaped pasta came from. Outside of Italy, most people don’t recognize that it’s butterfly pasta, and in America it’s referred to as farfalle bow ties.
To call a butterfly, in Russian, is a bow tie, babochkas (like babushkas), along with little lady and girls . Could this be why butterflies and little girls are paired together nicely?
In Norway, the winter is bleak and butterflies don’t come out until the summer. They are called summer-birds, or somerfogl.
The French have a hard time coming up with words and they usually take from Latin. The Latin word for butterfly is papilio. The French adapted this to papillons for butterflies. Then, in the grand scheme of things, the French realized the grand tents where kings sat at tournaments and jousts were shaped like the wings of a butterfly. They began to called them papillons, too. In English, we call them pavilions, which means there’s a butterfly at one end of the Lord’s Cricket Ground.
Why some many names that aren’t closely related to their evolution to this single insect? Many believe the butterfly is imagines as a human soul that has shaken off the mortal coils as it flutters freely and colorfully in the afterlife.
The Maoris and Aztecs believed this, and appeared in their mythology Itzpapalotl who was the goddess of the Obsidian Butterfly. She could only be freed by the tongue-twisting god, Tezcatlipoca.
The Greeks also believed butterflies resembled the soul as depicted by Psyche, the goddess of the soul. There’s a lovely allegorical poem called “Cupid and Psyche.” She’s also the origin of psychoanalysis.