The word Lepidoptera comes from the Latin word for "scaly wing", from the Ancient Greek λεπίς (lepis) meaning scale and πτερόν (pteron) meaning wing. Sometimes the term Rhopalocera is used to group the species that are butterflies, derived from the Ancient Greek ῥόπαλον (rhopalon) and κέρας (kæras) meaning "club" and "horn", respectively; coming from the shape of the antennae of butterflies.
The origins of the common names "butterfly"and "moth" are varied and often obscure. The English word butterfly is from Old English buttorfleoge, with many variations in spelling. Other than that, the origin is unknown, although it could be derived from the pale yellow color of many species' wings suggesting the color of butter. The species of Heterocera are commonly called moths. The origins of the English word moth are more clear, deriving from the Old English moððe" (cf. Northumbrian dialect mohðe) from Common Germanic (compare Old Norse motti, Dutch mot and German Motte all meaning "moth"). Perhaps its origins are related to Old English maða meaning "maggot" or from the root of "midge", which until the 16th century was used mostly to indicate the larva, usually in reference to devouring clothes.
The etymological origins of the word "caterpillar", the larval form of butterflies and moths, are from the early 16th century, from Middle English catirpel, catirpeller, probably an alteration of Old North French catepelose: cate, cat (from Latin cattus) + pelose, hairy (from Latin pilōsus).
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Famous quotes containing the word etymology:
“The universal principle of etymology in all languages: words are carried over from bodies and from the properties of bodies to express the things of the mind and spirit. The order of ideas must follow the order of things.”
—Giambattista Vico (16881744)
“Semantically, taste is rich and confusing, its etymology as odd and interesting as that of style. But while stylederiving from the stylus or pointed rod which Roman scribes used to make marks on wax tabletssuggests activity, taste is more passive.... Etymologically, the word we use derives from the Old French, meaning touch or feel, a sense that is preserved in the current Italian word for a keyboard, tastiera.”
—Stephen Bayley, British historian, art critic. Taste: The Story of an Idea, Taste: The Secret Meaning of Things, Random House (1991)