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Bee line

Posted by Smokey Stover on February 25, 2009 at 04:23

In Reply to: Bee line posted by Graham Cambray on February 24, 2009 at 19:43:

: : 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.