As we were driving through Paris recently in the rain, we saw a café called “Minute Papillon” which made me wonder about the origin of the expression which is roughly equivalent to our English saying “Hold your horses!”.
Some sources suggest it is simply a metaphor about butterflies which flit from flower to flower, which would also explain the verb papillonner which means to chop and change or flit from one thing to another.
Other sources also believe the expression came into use in the early 20th century but with a much more amusing origin. At the time, there was a café in Paris that was very popular with journalists. There was a waiter called Papillon who used to answer “Minute, j’arrive” when too many people were calling on his services at the same time.
So when customers wanted to tell him he could take his time, they would say, “Minute Papillon!” It seems the journalists spread the story.
Minute papillon has a second meaning which is an extension of the first i.e. I don’t agree, meaning that the other person has to stop talking so that they can place their argument.
Papillon by itself has several interesting meanings. It can apply to someone who is fickle. It also means a sticker and, by extension, a parking ticket on the windscreen (although I have never seen them in the form of a sticker).
Papillon is also used to designate a butterfly nut and butterfly stroke in swimming.
A noeud papillon is our bow tie. I much prefer the French expression.
However, you can’t have papillons in your tummy when you’re nervous the way you do in English. You have “le trac” instead.
And, by the way, there is no separate word for moth in French – it’s a papillon de nuit!
Do you have any other expression that revolve around butterflies and papillons?