Dear indigenous Detective: I freshly told a girlfriend from Venezuela that she was “cute as a button.” no being a native English speaker, she inquiry me come explain. She asked if ns was talking around a flower, a clothes button, or other else. After extensive Google research, ns am still in ~ a loss. Have the right to you please help? — Allison Sagehorn.

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I’ll provide it a shot. Had I been in your position, however, I’d have actually stuck with a much more obvious number of speech, such as “cute as a bug’s ear” or the ever-popular “cute together a pancake ~ above a cat.” (Think I’m kidding? Google “pancake on cat.”) There’s actually a whole selection of “cute as …” sayings in American folk speech, consisting of the rather much more boring “cute together a puppy” (and “as a kitten”), but including part oddities choose “cute as a needle” and “cute together a weasel.” together Michael Quinion ( points out in his short article on “cute together a bug’s ear,” some “cute as” locutions (such together “weasel” and “needle” above) actually employ the original sense that “cute” definition “sharp or clever,” the word “cute” itself gift a clipped type of “acute.”

“Cute as a bug’s ear,” incidentally, assumes the bugs’ ear are very small, and therefore cute (since tiny things are considered cute), although bugs do not in reality possess ears of any size. So friend all have the right to stop shouting in ~ bugs now.

The word “button” arrived in English in the 14th century, adjusted from the Old French “bouton,” which was in turn derived from Latin roots through the general sense that “push or thrust” (and which likewise gave united state “butt” in the feeling of “to ram through one’s head”). “Button” has acquired a wide selection of definitions in that time, indigenous the small disk or knob used in fastenings on clothing to the buds on a young plant to the metaphorical “big red button” that can launch a atom war, all v the feeling of something difficult up or thrusting through. About the only thing all the various sorts of “buttons” the end there have in common is the they space usually round and, many often, fairly small.

“Button” has likewise spawned a variety of slang phrases and metaphors. Us speak of gift somewhere in ~ a details time “on the button,” a referral to the tiny round dot at the facility of a target. Come “push someone’s buttons” means to agitate or anger the human being (e.g., through bringing increase a perceptible subject), and to “button up” means the opposite, to remain silent. But when us really have actually something to say, we might “buttonhole” a friend, an interpretation to forcefully detain a human being in conversation. Interestingly, the original type of “buttonhole” was, in the early 19th century, “button-hold,” and it supposed to literally grab host of a switch on someone’s cloak in stimulate to save the human being from walking away while you to be speaking. “Button-hold” became “buttonhole” (since “buttonhole” was already an established and also familiar term) in the 1860s.

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None of these “buttons,” as you may have actually noticed, might plausibly be defined as “cute,” which bring us back to wherein we began. The button in “cute as a button” almost certainly doesn’t describe the switch on a shirts or dress, or come the mechanically buttons that we obediently press every day. The sort of “button” that might reasonably be considered “cute” is the “button,” or bud, top top a young plant, particularly one about to bloom because that the an initial time. Applied to a child, together it regularly is, “cute as a button” therefore conveys not only smallness and also cuteness, however youth and promise as well.