The English verb butt, as when people butt heads or butt into a conversation, is, if not short and sweet, at least short. Such pithy, direct English words are often native, but butt entered the language from Old French bouter ‘to strike, thrust.’ If that sounds like Spanish botar—which can mean ‘to throw, throw away, cast, bounce, bound, knock over’—it’s because Old French bouter and Spanish botar were both borrowed from a word of Germanic origin.

From the verb bouter Old French created the noun boton, literally ‘something that thrusts forward.’ That has passed into English as button and into Spanish as botón, which now has additional meanings that include ‘knob, handle’ and ‘sprout, bud.’ In recent years Spanish has adopted botón de(l) ratón as a translation of the English computer term mouse button.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jayne Cotten
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 06:32:24

    “…botón de(l) ratón…”

    Oh, yes. You made me laugh.


  2. wordconnections
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 10:31:41

    Thanks for butting in! Language is so much fun. I meant to point out the way botón del ratón rhymes; that rhyming may have added to your laughter. Also, we English speakers are so accustomed to using mouse as a computer term that we don’t think about a rodent anymore. Seeing the word in Spanish might have brought the original (funny) metaphor back to life for you.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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