Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Episode 140: Butterfly Kisses Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 140: Butterfly Kisses

Record Date: January 9, 2022

Air Date: January 12, 2021



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison


And I’m Dan Pugh

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

This week we’re looking into kissing. But not just any kind of kissing. The daintiest of kisses, the butterfly kiss. 

Shauna, what does a butterfly kiss mean to you?


The Oxford English Dictionary defines a butterfly kiss in two ways. The first…


a light kiss in which the lips only brush the skin

End Quote

The second…


an act of affectionately fluttering one's eyelashes against a person's skin

End Quote

This phrase started, and is still sometimes used, to mean a light kiss with the lips. And the usage of the eyelashes comes sometime later. 

It appears to have originated with a common metaphor talking about how delicately a butterfly kisses a flower.

The Berwick Advertiser out of Northumberland, England - 31 May 1834

This is from a piece called “The Fair”. The Fair was also printed in Tales of the Borders and of Scotland, Volume 1 by John Mackay Wilson in 1847. But since it appeared in the Berwick Advertiser in 1834, I’ll use that source. 

From “The Fair”...


He hastened to the dancing room, and there he beheld Menie, “the observed of all observers,” gliding among her rustic companions lightly as you have seen a butterfly kiss a flower.”

End Quote

I will also point out that Mr. Wilson was fond of the phrase, as I found it many more times in his works of the late 1830s and 1840s. If anyone gave the allusion life, it might be John Mackay Wilson, despite that he never seemed to use it to describe a kiss between two people. At least not that I found. 

Here’s another example from the Lower Sandusky Freeman, out of Fremont, Ohio, March 24, 1849. 


End Quote

These are just two examples of many that show how prevalent the use of this imagery was in the 1800’s; a butterfly on a flower is lightly kissing the flower. That imagery could be used for many things that are delicately or lightly done. 

Because of how often we saw the concept being used as a descriptor, it’s likely impossible to know for sure the first time it was used. But we do have some examples to point out for when we first started seeing it in print as a descriptor of two people actually kissing. 

This one is from Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, in the January to June 1848 edition, out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Edited by Mrs. Sarah J. Hale and Louis A. Godey. 


End Quote

This one seems to refer to a light kiss with the lips, based on the practice of American wedding ceremonies of the time. 

Here’s another, this one from the Buchan Observer out of Peterhead, which I believe is in Scotland… 6 March 1868


It was a pity they were not in that golden age of childhood when they would have stood face to face, eyeing each other with timid liking, then given each other a little butterfly kiss, and toddled off to play 

End Quote

This one is a little more difficult as it doesn’t appear to tell us what it means by butterfly kiss. My biases tell me he means the quick peck that kids might do. But I’m just not sure. 

Now we come to two examples of butterfly kisses with the eyelashes. 

First up is E. Lynn Linton’s 1883 work Ione, in three volumes. Our quote is from Volume 1.$b250089&view=1up&seq=13&skin=2021 


End Quote

Next up is 8 years later with Carmen Sylva’s work Edleen Vaughan, or Paths of Peril, 1891. 

Interesting note, Carmen Sylva is the non de plume, or literary name, of Elisabeth of Wied. Pauline Elisabeth Ottilie Luise of Wied was the first Queen of Romania. 

But back to Edleen Vaughan, or Paths of Peril…


End Quote

Even though we see these two use the phrase relating to eyelashes, we still see others of the time using it as a light or quick kiss, like this example from:

End Quote

Moving to the early 1900s…

So we have this article talking about a butterfly kiss as a light, maidenly kiss.

But here’s one from the Rock Island Argus out of Rock Island, Illinois, February 9, 1916, just 3 months later. This one is from a regular column called Heart and Home Problems by Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson. The question askers are two girls, aged 13 and 15 and they ask simply, “What is a butterfly kiss?”

Her response…


End Quote

There doesn’t seem to be much agreement on what a butterfly kiss is, though everyone agrees it is a light, delicate thing.

I did see a brief thing in the American newspapers in the 1950, lasting for about 10 years, where “butterfly kiss” became a bit of a tease-like action in advertisements. Which is probably more a reflection of the “sex sells” mantra than anything as I don’t see it anywhere but advertisements.

The tease usage didn’t seem to last, though. Generally, it seems a butterfly kiss as a light kiss has been around since the mid 1800s, with butterfly kiss with the use of the eyelashes has been around since the late 1800s. Both usages were used throughout the 1900s as well. But how do we use the phrase today? Let’s explore that after a quick word from our sponsors. 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

And speaking of our patreon, we’d love your support! Tiers start at $3 a month, which get you our polls and community only discussions, early access to the podcast, and the behind the scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. At $10 you’ll also get original digital artwork from Shauna once a month featuring exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. At $15, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe and Mary Halsig-Lopez do every episode. Because they are awesome! 

We also have higher tiers available. Whatever your budget, you can help create Bunny Trails week after week to help continue this educational artform. 

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Modern Uses

1997 Song

I was in my waning years as teenager when this song came out and I remember it being a massive hit. This song was a phenomenon. It hit #1 on the US Adult Contemporary charts as well as the Canadian counterpart. It received a Grammy for Best Country Song. It won the Gospel Music Associations’ Dove Award for Song of the Year. It is #15 in the Netherlands and #13 on Billboards Top 40. It appealed to a wide variety of audiences in the day.

Butterfly Kisses, by Bob Carlisle. 

Some of the lyrics go,


For butterfly kisses after bedtime prayer

Sticking little white flowers all up in her hair

"Walk beside the pony, Daddy, it's my first ride."

"I know the cake looks funny, Daddy, but I sure tried."

Oh, with all that I've done wrong, I must have done something right

To deserve a hug every morning And butterfly kisses at night

End Quote 

2001 Book

The song spurred a children's book, too, called Butterfly Kisses: A Little Golden Book. Here’s the synopsis from the publisher.


In this moving narrative poem, Bob Carlisle and his daughter Brooke recapture the emotions so eloquently expressed in Bob's hit song which reached the top of the pop, country, Christian, and adult contemporary song music charts. Told in conversational verse between father and daughter, Butterfly Kisses celebrates the shared love, trust, and hope that create a unique bond between father and daughter. This Little Golden Book is a must-have for every daughter's bookshelf. Recommended for ages 3 to 7.

End Quote 

2014 Artwork

I found a 2014 artwork by Dita Omuri on This is a painting, acrylic on canvas that is roughly 18 by 24 inches. It depicts two people engaging in a light kiss on the lips. The note from the artist about the work simply gives a Paul McCartney quote, “Close your eyes and I'll kiss you, Tomorrow I'll miss you.” 

2018 Movie

Well, we went from sweet songs to horror movies here, with the 2018 film Butterfly Kisses. This is a “found footage” style film written and directed by Erik Kristopher Myers. Here’s the synopsis from


A filmmaker discovers a box of video tapes depicting two students' disturbing film project featuring a local horror legend, The Peeping Tom. As he sets out to prove this story is real and release it as a work of his own, he loses himself and the film crew following him into his project.

End Quote 

 Twitter is mostly on team eyelashes when it comes to butterfly kisses. I don’t want to quote any of them because the vast majority feature pictures of people the poster wants to butterfly kiss, or people with long eyelashes the poster wants to be butterfly kissed by. But since I can’t tell from context if these advances are wanted or not, I’m not going to post any of them. But just trust me, the vast majority of Twitter who post about butterfly kisses are on team eyelashes. 

I’ll share this one, because it doesn’t have any pictures. 

Wrap up...

It does appear that today, and probably thanks to the Bob Carlise song and his interpretation of butterfly kisses, that most folks think Butterfly Kisses are with the eyelashes. I think we’ll put out a poll on Twitter, so hope over to @bunnytrailspod on Twitter and take the poll. We’ll post it the day this episode airs and leave it up for 3 or 4 days. 



That’s about all the time we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website - Of course, the best way to make sure we see your comment is to post it on the Patreon page!


Poll time! 

Based on an article by, we asked our Patrons to vote for their favorite autumn desert. We gave broad options: pies, breads, fruit crisps, or other. 

Pies were the resounding winner, followed by breads. Pumpkin, pecan, and apple were frequently mentioned, with honorable mention going to strawberry rhubarb. Pumpkin muffins, banana breads, and cinnamon rolls all got some love, too. Fruit crisps got some second or third place comments, but it was far down the list for anyone's top spot. 

And before you ask, no… no one mentioned pumpkin spice lattes.  

If you want to join our polls, head over to where Patrons at all levels can participate in our weekly silly polls that mean absolutely nothing and aren’t even scientifically valid. But they are fun to talk about!


Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 


Words belong to their users

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