|simp. and trad.
|variant forms||胡蝶 obsolete|
From Middle Chinese *ɦuo dep (first syllable unstressed), from Old Chinese *ɡaː l'eːb, derived from a proto-form of *kʰleːp ~ *ɦleːp, a prefixed form of the root *lep (“butterfly”), which was also the source of
Variants of 胡蝶 / 蝴蝶, representing different developments from the proto-form, including disyllabification, fricativisation of the voiceless initial, etc.:
There are different theories regarding the original meaning of the root *lep:
- Proto-Sino-Tibetan *ljap (“thin; flat; flat object”), represented by the phonetic element 枼 () in Chinese. Related to *leb葉 (, “leaf”), *hljeb, *leb牒 (, “official document < plank”), *l'eːbTibetan ལེབ་ལེབ (leb leb, “flat; level”), ལེབ་མོ (leb mo, “flat”) and Burmese လှပ် (hlap, “thin”). See 枼 for more.
- Proto-Sino-Tibetan *s-ljap (“lightning; flash; glitter”) (Matisoff, 2003), whence also 燁 (, “gleaming”), *ɢʷab, *ɢʷɯb熠 (, “flashing”) and *ɢrub, *lubBurmese လျှပ် (hlyap, “(of light) to strike; to shine; lightning”). Compare Malay kerlap (“to flash; to glisten, as the wings of flying butterflies”).
Alternatively, Sun (1999) proposes that 蝴蝶 is a fission reduplication of two cognate bases, the former being more likely:
- 挾 (, “to press from both sides; to carry something under one's arms”), alluding to the flapping motion of the butterfly's wings, or *ɡeːb
- 夾 (, “pincers”), from the way the butterfly holds its wings erect when not flying. *kreːb
- butterfly (Classifier: 隻／只)
- 昔者莊周夢為胡蝶，栩栩然胡蝶也，自喻適志與！ [Classical Chinese, trad.]
- From: Zhuangzi, circa 3rd – 2nd centuries BCE
- Xī zhě Zhuāng Zhōu mèng wéi húdié, xǔxǔrán húdié yě, zìyù shìzhì yú! [Pinyin]
- Formerly, I, Zhuang Zhou, dreamt that I was a butterfly, a butterfly flying about, feeling that it was enjoying itself.
昔者庄周梦为胡蝶，栩栩然胡蝶也，自喻适志与！ [Classical Chinese, simp.]