In Reply to: Bee line posted by Smokey Stover on February 25, 2009 at 15:16:
: : : : : : Regarding the idiom "bee line". I'm just now learning German and have encountered the term "sich beeilen" meaning to "hurry up". It struck me that English speakers here in America might have heard German neighbors use the phrase and then took it over as "bee line" as that fits also with the flight habit of the insect and makes sense in English. Any thoughts on this?
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: : : : : There's a formal entry on this site on the phrase. It is US in origin, but the accepted view is that bees really do travel in a straight line to food sites, and the phrase simply reflects this fact. "As the crow flies" is the same sort of thing. Whilst "making a beeline" has the primary meaning of going directly to somewhere (no stops or deviations) a secondary sense of hurrying is often implied, so I can see why you ask the question, but I know of no support for the link you suggest, and I don't think there's really a need to invoke a link of this kind to explain the term. Or, at least, not in recent times - the word "bee" (via Old English beo) does come from the Germanic languages. Good luck with learning German! (GC)
: : : : To Janice Simpson I would say, as Graham did, Good luck with your German studies. It's a fun language, and definitely gives you a new perspective on English. But if you pronounce "sich beeilen" the way I've usually heard it, it has little resemblance to "bee-line." In fact, most times that I've heard it, it contains a glottal stop, which would rule out a phonetic resemblance to "bee-line."
: : : : As for the straight flight of bees, what straight flight? When bees have found a good supply of nectar and had their fill, you might describe their flight back to the hive as more or less a bee-line. But while searching for the nectar their flight is anything but. They go up, they go down, they go left, then right, as they find or fail to find, the desired flowers. And this flight takes more of their time than the flight home. Well, everyone knows what bee-line means, so no matter if there's a little disconnect.
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: : : Bee reference books say that bees do fly straight from the hive to the general source of nectar, which may be some distance away, and then roam from flower to flower. The direction of the longer flight is communicated by forager bees.
: : I can back this up from personal observation. I've never owned a hive (my wife is scared of bees), but for about 5 years I used to help a local beekeeper. The bees will have a little circle around to (a) warm up their muscles - they'll have had a little "buzz" before taking off, too; (b) get their bearings and (c) gain some height - and then they'll all be off, straight as an arrow, heading in the same direction (or sometimes in a set number of different directions). Because specific flowers tend to produce nectar at specific hours of the day, a few hours later and they'll be off in a different direction (and you can often identify where they've been by the pollen they're carrying when they return). When they've followed their directions to the nectar, they may have to do a bit of searching around, if the "target" is relatively small, and then they do the "flitting from flower to flower" thing till their stomachs and baskets are full - and then another beeline home. Coming back, they alway seem to arrive at the hive very accurately, and seem to quickly learn to use local "landmarks". This relates to the workers. Drones don't seem to be very organised on the way out, and can return from almost any compass bearing. (GC)
: Very true about the forager bees giving directions to the others. They do it by doing a dance in the hive which contains quite specific instructions as to how to find the good flowers. So the bee-line is obviously far more common than I thought. Now just give us back our bees. Their population is becoming dangerously low in th
e U.S., owing to disease, possibly spread by Africanized bees.
- In Europe too, alas. (VSD)