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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Words of the Day — buttonhole

Good morning, Netizens...

January 09, 2013

Words of the Day

  • buttonhole
  • audio pronunciation
  • \BUT-un-hohl\


: to detain in conversation by or as if by holding on to the outer garments of

I'm sorry I'm late. I was buttonholed by a coworker just as I was leaving my office.

"The school's administrative assistant, Kristine Silva, who attended Jefferson when she was a little girl, made a Facebook event that attracted about 9,000 people. And she buttonholed anyone she encountered who happened to be carrying a smartphone, including store clerks and a stranger in a food court in an Albuquerque mall." — From an article by Leslie Linthicum in the Albuquerque Journal, November 22, 2012


"Buttonhole" is easy to pin down as a noun referring to the slit or loop through which a button is passed to fasten something, but its shift to a verb meaning "to detain in conversation" requires some explanation. "Buttonhole" is an alteration of another verb now long out of use: "buttonhold," which literally meant to hold on to the buttons or lapels of someone's coat when speaking to him or her. In the mid-19th century, English speakers altered the verb to "buttonhole," perhaps as a result of hearing "buttonhold" as "buttonholed." The overlap is apparent in an early instance of this spelling, an 1862 London publication called All Year Round: "The man who is button~holed, or held … and must listen to half an hour's harangue about nothing interesting."

From Merriam-Webster Online at



Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.