What are they flutter among the flowers and among the cinders? Flinders. Do they flit towards the flames in fascination? Or flap between blossoms and flowing bowers? Are they grey as dust and smoke? Or vivid, resplendent, variegated, as monarchs and iridescent metalmarks? All are leaping and dropping lepidoptera, each one a flinder.
There’s a little trick of equivocation here. Flinders, plural only, are fragments, slivers, slender shards shivered from pots and bottles. That word, they say, is not related to singular flinder: it touches on modern Dutch flenter, fragment, whereas our flinder du jour reflects in the finder as Dutch vlinder, what they call a butterfly. But our flying singular flinder has two flakes, flinders dun as a dull dawn or flashy as stained glass, and it flaps them to bob and glide in the air.
Moths and butterflies! How can we have one word for both? Well, we don’t normally, not now, but we did before, and I declare we still shall because you can flip through the leaves of a large old lexicon and find flinder. Listen, they’re not such different things, not more than a violin and a fiddle. A moth will eat your woolens, true, and snuff your candle with its self-immolation, but never forget that what burns there is but an underappreciated brother of the butterflies in which you take such delight.
Or, more to the point, taxonomically, butterflies are just the prettiest moths: Most lepidoptera are moths, which we think of as furry and drab though some are rather pretty, but butterflies are a single clade of the clan that have different publicity, and though they’re of the same phylum we file ’em elsewhere. Unless we name them all flinders, and see the same family among flowers and cinders.