Cute as a button is an idiom with a cloudy etymology. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words, or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom cute as a button, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.
Cute as a button describes something that is petite, adorable, or daintily attractive. The idiom cute as a button is a simile, which is a phrase used in a sentence that is a comparison of one thing with something else using the word like or the word as. There is much discussion as to where the expression cute as a button comes from. Perhaps the most plausible theory is that the word button in the phrase means the bud of a flower, rather than a type of fastener for clothing. The word cute is an abbreviation of the word acute. Originally, the word cute also meant sharp, but by the 1830s the word cute acquired its current meaning. When used as an adjective before a noun, the phrase is hyphenated as in cute-as-a-button. The simile structure cute as… is used for various comparisons, through cute as a button may be the most common. Another less popular simile is cute as a bug’s ear.
It’s not clear what prompted it, and it’s the last thing on anyone’s mind as the cute-as-a-button 4-year-old gazes into the camera while getting her hair cut. (The New York Daily News)
Everything “Star Wars” is bound to rocket to success, but there’s no doubt that the numerous products featuring “The Child,” aka cute-as-a-button “Baby Yoda,” will be in big demand. (The New York Post)
Sixteen-year-old high school student Olivia is cute as a button and brings her entire dance squad along as support. (Billboard Magazine)