Cute as a Button
Posted by Arthur on May 15, 2005
In Reply to: Cute as a Button posted by Victoria S Dennis on May 15, 2005
: : : The following was the last posting on this phrase, from 2000:
: : : Posted by ESC on December 05, 2000
: : : In Reply to: Cute as a Button posted by Noah Youn on December 05, 2000
: : : : this saying is listed but I cant find the it. I also looked though this bulletin board and only found one entry, but doesnt really explain much. so if anyone can please help me find out what the meaning and orign of the saying "cute as a button" or at least how it came to use, it would be greatly appreciated.
: : : This is all I know:
: : : CUTE AS A BUTTON - "cute, charming, attractive, almost always with the connotation of being small, 1868 (from the original 1731 English meaning of 'acute' or clever). Cute as a bug's ear, 1930; cute as a bug in a rug, 1942; cute as a button, 1946. Cute and keen were two of the most overused slang words of the late 1920s and 1930s." From Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1992.)
: : : Flexner may have an idea about the word "cute," but he provides no guidance on the question of how a button can be cute. The key to the issue is that it is not the button on a shirt that is meant here, but a flower bud seen in the popular name of small flowers, such as bachelor's button (q.v. "button" (n) in the OED, meanings 2 and 3).
: : Oh, cute as a flower bud. Makes sense.
: : The British version is "bright as a button". This makes sense if you think of a polished brass button. The phrase is really only ever used of small people - you'd say that a child, or maybe a small dog, was as bright as a button, but you'd never say it of a six-foot man. So the image is of a small sparky thing.
Thank you, Victoria, for pointing out the British version of the phrase, which may indeed be the original one since it alliterates. You make a good point about the relative smallness of the object described as a button. Since at least the 15th century, the adjective "bright" has been used to describe the beauty of a flowering bud, so the phrase "bright as a button" can still originally refer to a flower bud.