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How Do Bees Affect Our Language?

I was out cruising along in my kayak for my morning, wake-up workout when a surprise bolt of lightning shot through the air above me. My heart rate spiked and I beelined it for the shore before I got cooked. As I settled into the safety of my pickup, I thought about the word “beeline” and where it comes from and jumped down the rabbit hole of “how do bees affect our language?”

Lives Intertwined

Bees and humans have a long history together. From pollinating crops to providing us with honey, there are many positive relationships. On the flip side, their stings hurt us and kill them. Despite the bad, we know we are highly dependent on their contributions to our lives. As such, it is no surprise that we have paid enough attention to them to have them become intertwined with our language as well as our sustenance. 

Bee References

Bee references are incredibly plentiful in just the English language alone. I couldn’t hope to cover all ends of the spectrum, but here are some key phrases and their importance: 

  • amber nectar – originally referring to honey, it has drifted to lager
  • bee in your bonnet – I think I would be much more preoccupied and obsessed with a hornet in my hat, but this one won out.
  • beeline – this may be my favorite. When a bee finds a source for others to gather from, it returns to the hive and does a waggle dance that instructs the others exactly which direction and how far to fly to make the most efficient direct line there. I think waggle dance needs to catch on, but it isn’t sticking so far. 
  • bee’s knees – originally referring to something that is nonsensical or doesn’t exist, this is interesting considering they do have jointed legs (though not a knee like humans of course). It later was used to refer to something that is great, the best, or desirable. Considering this is where pockets of goodness collect, it would make sense from an entomological standpoint, but I doubt it had much to do with it. 
  • bee stung lips – I’ve always thought this was an odd way of complimenting the lusciousness of lips, but who am I to argue? 
  • birds and the bees – it is no surprise that bees made the short list for the facts of life discussion. Their relationship to plant reproduction has been key to many human benefits. 
  • busy bee – it is hard to find more inspirational creatures from a work ethic standpoint
  • float like a butterfly, sting like a bee – ok, not quite the same as others, but just as iconic regardless of your take on boxing or Ali. 

More Bee References!

  • hive mind – while not unique to bees, ants and bees both have a lot to teach us about cooperation and selflessness. We could use a lot more of that in our own lives as well as on a larger scale
  • honey – honey has been inserted into many phrases from terms of endearment to descriptions of land to a fly catching fable. Why? Honey is delicious! 
  • mind your (own,) beeswax – there are a few myths floating around about the origin of this phrase. It is most likely just a simple word substitution for business because of word similarity. Another likely is tied to beeswax being used as slang for tedious/bore. This would put it as an insult at the end of the phrase as suggested parenthetically above. 
  • Put the bee on – This goes back to the frontier days and pressuring people to contribute to fund raising efforts. A bee has historically referred to people gathering for a specific purpose which includes a spelling bee
  • Queen bee – The power of the queen in a colony is inspiring. If you have never seen a swarm of bees following a queen, it is worth a look. 

Referencing Bees

We tend to refer to anything that flies and may have a chance at stinging us as a bee. This is typically fine for general conversation. But when it comes to control efforts, we want to ensure we protect bees and keep the more threatening chaps: 

in their correct place. Whether you need help with some aggressive stingers or want to dial in mosquito control without impacting the good pollinators, the crew at Rove Pest Control has the tips and services to help you on your way.