Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Episode 147: Butterflies in My Stomach Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 147: Butterflies in My Stomach

Record Date: February 27, 2022

Air Date: March 2, 2022



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

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

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.

Opening Hook

Do you remember what it felt like the first time your crush looked at you, or said hello? 

What about the first time you were about to perform on stage? Or the night before your first day at a new job? 

A person who is excited, but desperately nervous at the same time, might experience the sensation that something is fluttering around inside their stomach. When this happens, people often use the phrase: 

I’ve got butterflies in my stomach. 


According to Oxford English Dictionary, one figurative form of butterflies, is


A fluttering sensation felt, esp. in the stomach, as a result of nervousness or apprehensive excitement. Frequently in to have butterflies (in the stomach).

End Quote 

Most dictionaries list this same definition or a close variant. One online resource provided me with an additional term to research, which was rather fun., a collaboration between and Oxford University Press (OUP), gives a definition for butterfly tummy:


A fluttering sensation felt in the stomach as a result of nervousness or apprehensive excitement; 

compare: to have butterflies in the stomach, or, butterfly stomach.

End Quote  

People were describing this sensation and the concept of nerves and jittery feelings for years before anything related to butterfly stomach or butterflies in one’s stomach was turned into a phrase. And usually with a phrase that starts later, we can get a better idea of it’s specific origin. However, in this case, it just started showing up. Perhaps there are books or newspapers out there that haven’t been scanned yet from that time that are rife with mentions of butterflies in people’s abdomens. But for now, the following references will have to suffice. 

The first attestation in print I was able to locate is from The Churchman, a weekly illustrated newspaper by The Churchman Co. out of the Office of the Churchman Building, New York. This is from the 10 August 1907 edition which features a story by Florence Converse titled The House of Prayer. This was printed in completion as a book in 1908. This is from Chapter IV - Incense. 


End Quote  

This is a great example of how the phrase was originally used. It was associated more with worry or fear than it was pleasant emotions. Excitement and nervousness produce similar physical responses when people experience positive or negative emotions. 

In the case of this idiom, it is less about the emotions that lead to the sensation and more about the actual physical sensation itself. 

This next piece is from Boys' Life, the official youth magazine for the Boy Scouts of America. Published since 1911, it contains a proven mix of news, nature, sports, history, fiction, science, comics, and Scouting. 

The story I’ll be reading from was published in the February 1943 edition of Boy’s Life. It is titled: “I Am a Paratrooper” by Bill Gardner (formerly a member of Troop 31, Staten Island and messenger in National Headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America.)


End Quote*+stomach%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Eg3rTrqiKtSr8QPA7Zn4CQ&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22butterflies%20in%20my%20stomach%22&f=false  

From Blood, Sweat, and Lipstick by Elsie Nicholas Danenberg published in 1945.


Katie, the cook in the

End Quote  

From The Miami times out of Miami, Florida, the October 11, 1952 edition, from the segment: 


End quote 

He’s a little flustered over game seven of the World Series… to be fair alot of people were pretty worked up over it. 

From the Evening star July 29, 1956 edition out of Washington, D.C., we have a little short story titled: Bird Out of Hand by William Corbin. 


End quote 

The last four or five examples are from the same two decades and use different versions of the phrase and with slightly different implications. 

I originally thought that the phrase had transitioned over the years and was now used solely to refer to nervousness related to positive situations… As I researched it, I realized I was completely wrong. Over its relatively short life as a phrase, it’s been used throughout that time to express both positive and negative situations and emotions. 

Alright, I’ve got one more before we move into this century… 

From The frontier July 30, 1959 edition out of O'Neill City, Holt County, Nebraska, USA. 


End quote 

Before we get to our modern uses, we want to say thank you to our sponsors…

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

You can help support this educational artform and get awesome perks along the way! 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 does every episode. And of course huge thanks goes to the top spot among our Patrons, our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez. Thank you so much to Mary and all of our patrons. 

If you want to help create Bunny Trails week after week, whatever your budget, we are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. 


Modern Uses


In 2010 The Chase released the song Butterfly (in my stomach)

The song begins 


I've got nothing but a butterfly,

I like to be inside your heart beat you,

I want nothing but just butterfly,

In my stomach everytime I see you,

I'm doing nothing but butterflying.

End Quote 

2010 was a popular year for songs about butterflies. 

Butterflies in My Tummy by Mocca was released in 2010 as well. It has a different vibe than the first. MOCCA is an Indonesian four-member band formed in 1999 in Bandung, capital city of West Java, Indonesia. The band’s musical style is inspired by retro sounds from the ‘50s-‘70s, influenced by Swedish pop, with touches of swing, bossanova and jazz. 

In the Books

From  Butterflies in My Stomach and Other School Hazards

by Serge Bloch was published in 2008


You can bet your bottom dollar this funny story is the cream of the crop—and the best thing since sliced bread! Award-winning artist Serge Bloch will have kids laughing their heads off at this child’s-eye look at idiomatic expressions like “ants in your pants,” “homework is for the birds,” and “cat got your tongue?” These commonly used sayings make sense in the adult world, but just imagine what a child pictures when she hears it’s “raining cats and dogs!” With witty and wonderful images that mix whimsical line drawings with photographs of inanimate objects, Bloch gives us a unique and sympathetic perspective on a boy’s first day of school where colorful butterflies flutter in our hero’s stomach and a cloud rains on him when he’s “under the weather.” Even the “big cheese” Principal has a body cut out of a block of Swiss.

End Quote 

From Love with Fangs (Vampire Paranormal Romance Series Book 1) by Joanna Mazurkiewicz · 2021


When I saw Roberto outside my apartment the next day, I had butterflies in my stomach. It was the end of January, and today I was to accompany Nathaniel to his business dinner, officially as his girlfriend. I was excited and petrified ...

End Quote 

From the Twitterverse

First, from tata7


End Quote 

Aside from about a million posts about BTS ... there are also some that are not about BTS such as one from Neil. 


End quote 

It seems they were discussing a game that was about to begin. 

In the Art World

There is a cool painting found on Saatchi Art. 

Butterflies in my stomach is an oil painting on canvas by Mertim Gokalp from Australia. It depicts a woman holding her stomach and bent forward slightly with butterflies flying out of her mouth. To me, it gives the impression of a nervousness that might be closer to worry, anxiety, or perhaps stagefright. When I look at it, I can feel her discomfort. This piece is sold, but prints are available and it can be viewed online. 

Wrap up...

I really appreciate phrases like this one that vary in usage and aren’t inherently good or bad. I feel like these are the types of things that can help bring us together as humans. Not the phrase itself, but the concept. The recognition that - for the most part - we all experience the same things. We get nervous and excited - we experience hope, fear, anticipation… and many of us have the same physical sensation in response. And the best way that many of us have come up with to express the sensation is the absurd idea that butterflies are fluttering around in our abdomens. It’s fantastic and I love it! 



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


Time to wrap up with the weekly poll from Patreon.

Recently, we asked our Patrons, What is the most EPIC fantasy series of the last 100 years?

I didn't include some worthy contenders because the series is not finished, including A Song of Ice and Fire (Games of Thrones), The Dresden Files, The Kingkiller Chronicles, etc. 

Lord of the Rings won with a landslide, with The Chronicles of Narnia a distant second. Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and The Wheel of Time were all quite a bit further back from these other two.


Lord of the Rings is the one that ends up winning for me. I actually started re-re-re-re-re-reading it after this poll came out. It’s still good stuff.


I have to give a shoutout to Victoria Schwab for her worldbuilding. Every one of her books or series is unique. My favorite is her Shades of Magic trilogy. 


I don’t know how anyone goes against the Lord of the Rings as far as epic fantasy books go, but His Dark Materials would be second on my list, followed by the Chronicles of Narnia. I also love the Dresden Files series, but it has 3 or possibly 4 books left in the series.

Our patron Jan noted the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett warrants a read, and our patron Charlie said the Stormlight Archive is shaping up to be one of the most epic tales ever written. 


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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