Butterfly kiss: For Mother’s Day, kiss mom’s cheek and flutter your eyelashes like the sweep of a butterfly wing. Don’t forget to say “I love you!”
from Guide to butterflies and other little things with wings
The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio) – 7th May 2004
The earliest instance of butterfly kiss that I have found is from Adam Bede (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1860), by George Eliot, pseudonym of the English novelist Mary Anne Evans (1819-80); the term must have been already familiar since the author neither explained it nor used quotation marks:
Poor things! It was a pity they were not in that golden age of childhood when they would have stood face to face, eying each other with timid liking, then given each other a little butterfly kiss, and toddled off to play together. Arthur would have gone home to his silk-curtained cot, and Hetty to her home-spun pillow, and both would have slept without dreams, and to-morrow would have been a life hardly conscious of yesterday.
The earliest definition of butterfly kiss that I have found is from The Alabama Enquirer (Hartselle, Alabama) of 8th August 1889, which presents it as a new term:
The Butterfly Kiss.
“Say have you got on to the latest kiss?” asked a young man of the editor of the Enquirer recently.
“No, what is it?”
“It may not be new, but I have only lately experienced it. It is called a “butterfly kiss” and is as light and airy as the name signifies.”
“How is it?”
“Well, when a girl is real glad to see a fellow, and doesn’t want kiss him downright, she gives him a butterfly. She gets up close to him, bends over him and lightly sweeps his cheek with her eye-lashes. It’s over in a second, but it’s fine. When a girl that is just as absolutely pretty as she can be, with the loveliest eyes in the world and the longest kind of sweeping lashes, comes and delicately fans you in that style, I tell you, you feel like being lifted right up into the seventh heaven. It is something like I imagine a fairy’s visit or an angel’s touch would be. To appreciate it you must experience it.”
“But say what happens then? Don’t a more substantial osculation follow these dreams of bliss?” asked the inquisitive editor of the Enquirer, after short silence.
“That depends” was the reply, “and as I have never experienced this Elysian feeling but once, I am not going to say.”
And he proceeded on leaving the editor musing “Verily, there is something new under the sun.”