Saturday, April 24, 2010


Originally, a pavilion was a Roman military tent. It was given a name that meant a butterfly in Latin because it was thought to resemble the shape of a butterfly, especially when the flaps were pinned open.

An early account confirms this: “[The tents known as] pavilions (papilio, lit. butterfly or moth) are so called from their resemblance to the little flying animals that teem especially when the mallows are flowering. These are the little winged creatures that gather to a kindled light and, flitting around it, are forced to die from being too close to the fire.” [St. Isidore of Seville, The Etymologies, translated by Stephen A. Barney]

Shape was a factor in naming the butterfly clamp used to secure sheets of paper. It also explains the butterfly knife and the butterfly stroke in swimming.

SIDEBAR: Butterfly yo-yo trick

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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