Cute as a Button?

“Cute as a button” Is that supposed to be a compliment…? Since when are buttons cute? From Dusty

This question, for as often as it is researched, hardly fits under the “Infrequently Asked Questions” category, but since I had never heard the question before, I suppose it’s infrequent enough.

This question really piqued (thanks for the spelling help) my curiosity, so I decided to do some real research on the subject. The fruit of said research was less than satisfying.

Apparently, nobody knows really where the phrase originated, but we can come to a sort of conclusion about its meaning. According to several online dictionaries, the phrase “Cute as a button” is used how it is because of the size of a button. When people are talking about a cute dog, they’re not usually referring to a great dane. They’re usually referring to something small, which is virtually part of the definition of ‘cute’. Since small things are cute, and buttons are small, I guess you could say that buttons are cute.

As far as whether or not it’s a compliment, it depends entirely on context. Generally if you’re a male, and someone tells you you’re Cute as a button, then you may wanna think about taking up weight training. No guy ever wants to be cute as a button. But to girls, I think it’s probably a compliment… most of the time. There’s those times when they’re in one of “those moods” and I’m sure some girls could turn that around and say “A BUTTON?!? Buttons are ROUND! Are you calling me FAT?!?!?”

So there’s your complete, definitive answer to all questions concerning the phrase “Cute as a button”.

References: Dictionary.com, Songbites.com, Phrase.org

See the entire IFAQ

22 Responses to “Cute as a Button?”

  1. mithithl Says:

    well, no one asked me, but I do happen to know the origin of the phrase “cute as a button”…it actually has nothing to do with a button as in a button on a shirt. the button quail is a very small gray super, super fluffy squishy looking (or ‘cute’ if you will) bird. people used to say “cute as a button”, meaning “cute as a button quail” b/c the bird was considered so adorable. THAT is where it comes from. get it? thanks, i’m here til thursday. tip your servers.

  2. Ella Litchfield Says:

    The saying “cute as a button” is usually a compliment for a small child or a small person- female. It comes from the name of the bud of a flower which is called a button. This was from research, maybe right ,maybe wrong.

  3. Tent O Field Says:

    “Bright as a button” was a popular phrase for a long time and could refer to personality or intelligence. “Cute” originally came from “acute” and meant “shrewd, clever, sharp”. Synonyms of “bright” and “cute” overlapped so both words were used.

    Shiny buttons produced “bright as a button”. “Bright” meaning “clever” was synonymous with “cute” so “cute as a button” appeared but the shininess was lost. The modern meaning of “cute” is very different from the original so “cute as a button” makes no sense today. It didn’t make much sense originally either :o)

    By the way, I hate to point this out, but I think your interest was ‘piqued’ rather than ‘peaked’.

  4. big ed Says:

    well, I hate to shoot you all down, but…

    The origin of cute as a button originally comes from the port city of amsterdam, specifically during the tulip/merchant boom several centuries ago.
    A button was a specific type of prostitute, licenced by the city, to perform oral sex on wayfaring sailors in port to “blow their wad” literally and metaphorically speaking.
    As it was rude during that time to shout out at random women “Hey I want a blow job!” a code was gradually put in place. A would be merchant marine would walk up to a woman and exclaim “well arent you cute as a button!”. If the woman was a licensed street walker, should would respond with a price, and, usually would lead the would be blowee down an alley, leading to the know defunct phrase “Fat cats dont walk down alleys early.”

    So now you know!

  5. Stevish Says:

    An interesting story indeed, Ed… but without anything to back that up, it seems pretty far-fetched to me.

  6. alice Says:

    Big Ed, What is your source for this information? I’ve done some research and come up with nothing. Please let me know if you can.

  7. Lisa Cook Says:

    FYI ~
    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

  8. naisioxerloro Says:

    Hi.
    Good design, who make it?

  9. Paige Turner Says:

    I’m pretty sure “Cute as a button” actually means something along the lines of being cute… as a button! Way back when, some buttons were so intricate and therefore very, very expensive. Women would wear them (rich women), and that could possibly be why it’s used to compliment women, but also people admired having odd bobbles and ribbons and stuff all over their clothes (hey, hasn’t changed… much) and these intricate buttons were considered beautiful. They also (along with the bobbles and ribbons) signified wealth and prosperity. Although farmers had buttons as well (well, mostly laced up shirts) no one was going to compare a beautiful women to a farmer’s button, which was probably dirty, and… broken. I’m thinking that there is a long story behind how it came about, and why it’s “cute,” when way back then, “cute” wasn’t used. I’m talking possibly Elizabethan/Edwardian/Victorian times. I’m sure it wasn’t said that way then, but it probably had something close to it, and it was translated to match the modernized and contemporary language which we use today. Also, buttons are small, and everyone knows that small things are cute… as was mentioned.

  10. Zabimaru Says:

    I love how everyone has a different explanation and seem so sure of it. “It’s a bird!” “It’s a flower!” “It’s because buttons are shiny!” “It’s because buttons are small!” “It’s because buttons are pretty!”…

    I really wish the prostitute-explanation wasn’t a joke though, because I would have loved if that was the origin. Seriously, we need more prostitution in the origin of our phrases.

  11. Heather Says:

    Has anyone considered the word button is ‘cute ‘ in itself? That is what my daughter calls cute babies, Buttons. I enjoyed reading all the explanations.
    The english language is so weird!

  12. Idiotsupreme Says:

    yes I do agree that maybe the term cute as button is refering more to the pronunciation of the word button itself, but then again I’d also like if the prostitute related origin is true :p

  13. CUTE AS BUTTON « Worth Knowing Says:

    [...] http://stevish.com/archives/29 [...]

  14. D Says:

    http://www.cyberquail.com/

    It’s about the quail in the above link

  15. Marina Lynn Says:

    This discussion really PIQUED my curiosity, thanks for the answers. (see the discussion of piqued vs. “peaked” here: http://languageandgrammar.com/2008/07/29/has-your-cur iosity-been-peaked-or-piqued/ )

  16. Krikit Says:

    I was told “cute as a button” evolved in America during WWII, meaning it was not the FIRST use of the term, but part of it’s oral evolution to today. Many rural children didn’t have “toys” as we understand them. So, like in my mother’s case, when playing “house” with a “family”, old-fashioned clothes pins were dressed up as adults and buttons were the “children”. Again, no documented support for this (at least on the web, which is SUCH a plethora of truthful information – please read the “oral” account about the hookers) but how my parents explained their use of the term. Regardless, there was never ANY question that it was a compliment to cuteness.

  17. millie Says:

    I think all of you who commented are “cute as a button.” Really!

  18. Lady A Says:

    Well I work at a nursing home and me a resident were discussing actually what this meant.. I will have to tell him these explanations… However me personally love the hooker explanation.. Lol

  19. Sydgrrl Says:

    Well, It’s English. “Bright as a Button,” where “bright” meant shiny, or “smart” looking. “Acute”, the original word that ‘Cute’ apparently derives from, meant clever, astute, etc, but could have been synonymous with ‘Smart’. Well dressed, shined up, smart, and a button being small may have lead to the expression being used towards children.
    However, I remember being told many years ago that a ‘cute’ cowboy was a reference to his being bow-legged.

  20. Charles Snow Says:

    I understand that in the origin the people used the word button avoiding the word butt. The person thought it was a compliment but they making fun of him. When you compare something with a butt you are insinuating that thing is ugly. Your child is cute as a button. Think about it.

  21. Rich Says:

    It’s spelled, “piqued” not peaked your curiosity.

  22. Stuart Says:

    @Rich yes, that was pointed out twice already. I think he got the message.

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