Aventure in Etymology – Butter

Today we’re looking into the origins of the word butter.


Butter [ˈbʌtə / ˈbʌɾɚ] is:

  • A soft, fatty foodstuff made by churning the cream of milk (generally cow’s milk)
  • Any of various foodstuffs made from other foods or oils, similar in consistency to, eaten like or intended as a substitute for butter, such as peanut butter

It comes from the Middle English buter [ˈbutər] (butter), or from the Old English butere [ˈbu.te.re] (butter), from the Proto-West-Germanic *buterā (butter), from the Latin būtȳrum [buːˈtyː.rum] (butter, butter-like chemicals), from the Ancient Greek βούτῡρον [bǔː.tyː.ron] (butter), from βοῦς [bûːs] (cow, ox, cattle, shield) and τυρός [tyː.rós] (cheese), so in Ancient Greek, butter was literally “cow cheese” [source].

The Ancient Greek word βοῦς [bûːs] (cow, ox) comes from the Proto-Hellenic *gʷous (cow, cattle), from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷṓws (cattle). English words from the same roots include beef, bovine, bucolic, buffalo, cow, boustrophedon (writing in lines alternating from left to right and right to left, or lit. “as the ox turns”) [source].

The word boustrophedon is discussed in this Omniglot blog post.

The Ancient Greek word τυρός [tyː.rós] (cheese) comes from the Proto-Hellenic *tūrós (cheese), from the Proto-Indo-European *tewh₂- (to swell). English words from the same roots include thumb, truffle, tuber, tumor and tyromancy (divination by studying the coagulation of cheese) [source].

Here’s a video I made of this information:

Video made with Doodly [afflilate link].

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur.

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