A place for a


Mor – a new name for butterflies in the stomach

Fucking butterflies in the stomach. What idiot invented that? How do you feel? Butterflies in my stomach. What kind of answer is that? And what if you feel it in your chest? Butterflies in my chest? To me, it does feel nothing like butterflies.

Since I asked what idiot invented it, I may as well invest effort in answering that. If you don’t know Googles Ngram Viewer yet, I highly advise you to check it out. The app developers have created an enormous archive of books, or rather, words contained in books. These books go back as far as the 17th century, maybe further. This allows you to display a graph of the relative amount of occurrences of words and phrases in books over the course of time. Take a look at the graph of the phrase butterflies in my stomach. As with butterflies in his stomach, there is a steep ascend around 1940. It seems that the use of the phrase has been steadily growing until today.

Screenshot taken on the 23rd February 2015, Google Ngram Viewer

Screenshot taken on the 23rd February 2015, Google Ngram Viewer

Apparently, though, it goes as far back as 1908, originally being written in the singular form: butterfly in his stomach. And in fact, this seems more plausible to me. A gigantic butterfly, an insect that has his wings wrapped around my intestines, trying to escape. That is really scary, if you think about it, and it is far closer to the feeling the phrase is supposed to describe.

It being scary is actually quite fitting.

You may usually hear it in the context of being in love, but even then, it has nothing to do with endorphins. This is Wikipedia knowledge, but it should suffice: The name endorphins derives from endogenous morphine – morphine from inside the body. Morphine is an opioid analgesic drug, a painkiller with high addiction potential. Think of heroine. It actually calms you down, makes you feel comfortable. It’s why you eat sweet stuff to relieve stress. It releases endorphins. You are a fucking addict.

I prefer the more usually stated answer that it has to do with the fight-or-flight response:

Adrenaline causes rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure and improved circulation in your muscles. All of those effects are designed to help you fight the lion or run away. […]

At the same time that blood is flowing to your lungs and muscles, less of it is reaching other organs including your stomach. This and other hormonal changes may cause nausea. Even though man is unlikely to encounter a lion, a milder version of the same process kicks in in less stressful situations. That’s “butterflies” in your stomach.

– Howard Bennett in this article about butterflies in your stomach

Feeling nauseous in front of the lewd nurse at the doctors? Of course you do.

She stood naked, waiting, feeling the space between them like a pressure against her stomach, knowing that it was torture for him also and that it was as they both wanted it.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

It’s also consistent with what Rollo Tomassi from The Rational Male has to say in his great article about Last Minute Resistance:

This was long before I realized that sex was about urgency, anxiety and tension, not comfort, familiarity or rapport […]

Now we know what it is. But we still need a name for it. Butterflies simply aren’t satisfactory. I want a substantive, an adjective and a verb. Like painpainful and hurt.

Before having butterflies in ones stomach became popular, how did people call the feeling? I cannot imagine that such a profound and important feeling would go without name. Maybe the name was fear, before it became somewhat stigmatized and lost the wonderful meaning. Anyway.

According to the wiktionary, collywobble is also a synonym. I like it more, but it’s use is still inelegant. How do you feel? Collywobbly.

From my perception, it is a very distinct feeling, much like pain. But I have found no existing name for it. Tingle doesn’t describe it. Fluttery doesn’t describe it since nothing is really moving. It feels a bit as if a tincture of fire and ice was being used to paint my skin from the inside. And it can occur in the stomach as well as in the chest and in between.

I tried to find a name by feeling it and letting my stomach and lungs speak for themselves. Out came something like muera. That’s not really English-y, so I made it more concise: mor. Mor means sea, plague, moor, death and various other things in different languages. It gives me the right feeling.

Like the feeling itself, the sound of the word is at the same time stump, as opposed to sharp, and aggressive/discomforting, as opposed to mild/comforting. It is challenging as opposed to easily controlled.

Since I am against the stupid kind-of stigma against anxiety and fear, I like the word to be a challenge rather than a gift. So here are the sentences on how it is going to be used:

I feel mor in my stomach.

My chest feels mory.

My ribcage mores.

Yeah, it’s similar to “more”. Who cares. The context will solve it. But I’m open for suggestions.

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  • Tom,

    It’s interesting how the word came out to be ‘muera’ which in Spanish is the 3rd person subjective of to die. Did you know that? I realize I already remarked to you on this post in a comment you left on my page, but I wanted to look over your post again.

    I like the passion in your post and can see the frustration with how people ALWAYS tend to associate anxiety and butterflies in the stomach as some extremely negative happening.

    It reminds me of that movie “Wanted” where one day the main character finally snaps because of his anxiety and realizes that he can harness it instead of letting it control him. Something to think about. I’ll be sure to keep up with your blog.



    • Theo, thanks a lot for catching up. I didn’t know that, no; fits well, doesn’t it. Glad you like my writing.

      Yeah, I remember the movie and in that context, it makes sense. Hollywood movies are usually much better thought-out than people would assume. The real art is to make it look simple.

  • Wald

    Perhaps there’s a reason why the French call the orgasm “Le petit mort”, i.e. “the little death”.


    • How peculiar. I imagine that the man or woman who coined this term was used to quite explosive relationships.