What is the meaning of "[to] butterfly <something>"?
This quote is from the first post of a thread on an alternate history forum:

If Jesus was never born, this would obviously butterfly Christianity, which may in turn butterfly Islam as well. Judaism would still be the dominant religion in the MidEast, but they would only have to contend with Roman paganism

By reading the context, it seems like "to butterfly" means "to not let happen".

  • 1
    There is something called the butterfly effect, but the person who wrote the sentence obviously did not know about it. butterfly is not really a verb, but s*** happens, as they say.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 3:01
  • @Lambie "Butterfly" is a verb in cooking. That still does not make a whole lot of sense, but it makes more sense than trying to assume that the thought has anything to do with with the "butterfly effect." Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 3:28
  • @JeffMorrow You probably want to click on the link to read the context - the thread starts out with "But what if Jesus was never born?" AND it's on an "alternate history" forum. It makes a whole lot more sense that it's referring to the butterfly effect than the technique of splitting a pork chop...
    – ColleenV
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 0:30

1 Answer 1


This is sort of 'jargonish' verbal shorthand, and a reference to the 'Butterfly Effect' that Lambie mentioned in his comment. In this case, the 'butterfly flapping its wings' (minor incident) of a certain carpenter's son not being born causes the 'hurricane' (major effect) of eliminating Christianity, and possibly Islam as well.

It is also implying that the 'correct' view of history-as-a-process is fundamentally chaotic in the mathematical sense, where small changes in initial inputs lead to large changes in later outputs. There is possibly as much time-travel fiction that implies the opposite, that history-as-a-process is metastable, and will return in the long run to the same basic 'shape' - that is, if Yeshua ben Yosef of Nazareth had never been born, there might have been a similar charismatic figure with similar ideas, leading to 'Christianity', though with a different messianic figure, and perhaps differing in details.

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    I should probably note that the usage is vanishingly rare outside the subject of 'alternate history'. Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 5:09

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