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butterfly effect

a cumulatively large effect that a very small natural force may produce over a period of time.
Origin of butterfly effect
1980-85; so called from the notion that the fluttering of a butterfly's wings may set off currents that will grow into a large storm Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for butterfly effect
  • The butterfly effect is so small as to be totally irrelevant.
  • The butterfly effect can be added though to put us at the helm of many extinctions.
  • Something called the butterfly effect adds to the burden.
British Dictionary definitions for butterfly effect

butterfly effect

the idea, used in chaos theory, that a very small difference in the initial state of a physical system can make a significant difference to the state at some later time
Word Origin
C20: from the theory that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world might ultimately cause a hurricane in another part of the world
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Contemporary definitions for butterfly effect

a chaotic effect created by something seemingly insignificant, the phenomenon whereby a small change in one part of a complex system can have a large effect somewhere else

Word Origin

from the beating of a butterfly's wings in one place causing a tornado in another part of the world's 21st Century Lexicon
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