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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Monday, August 23, 2010

Butterflies and pavilions

Visiting the International Pavilion at the Canadian National Exhibition, which opens today. 
Butterflies. 
Two of the joys of summer. But did you know they’re etymologically related? The Latin word papilio (butterfly) was used in Roman army slang to mean “tent”, possibly because the folded-back flaps of the entrance to a tent looked like a butterfly’s wings. This migrated into Old French and thence into medieval English as pavillon, used for large, stately, highly ornamented round tents on military campaigns or at jousts. The word then came to apply to buildings with temporary uses, providing, for instance, shelter in a park or display space at an exhibition.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.