One of my earliest memories is of a recurring nightmare in which I was face to face with my dad and could see in his open mouth a buzzing (and stinging?) bee. The sound of the bee and my dad's distress (or my distress) was vivid and I woke up crying and wailing, "Daddy has a bee in his mouth!" It was really harrowing -- I was very little, barely verbal.
A few weeks ago, I was volunteering at a library book sale, and there on the stack was "A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now". Never, in all of my many years, had I ever seen or heard the phrase outside of my own early experience with it. Naturally, I had to have the book.
The author, Peter Wood, states in the first chapter that he has been pretty unsuccessful in finding the origin of the phrase:
My meager resources yield only “a bee in one’s bonnet” which also means agitation or having an obsession over something about which one refuses to stop talking. In Even-Steven and Fair and Square: More Stories Behind the Words, Morton S. Freeman states:As to the bee-in-the-mouth phrase, having missed the opportunity to ask the workman where he got it, [the book begins with the author overhearing a workman in Boston say, “A bee in the mouth is always bad”] I have since tried without much success to find it elsewhere. [He then lists examples of bee-in-mouth images from movies, literature and elsewhere, including the Guiness Book of World Records, a horror film Candyman 2, and a quote from the novel My Sister from the Black Lagoon, by Laurie Fox – ‘Certain people scream because of what’s inside them. Like, you know, having bees in the mouth’.] . . . Because I thought [the workman’s] accent Middle Eastern, I asked around, but found no sources in Arabic, Persian, Armenian, or Turkish. I tried further afield: Uzbeck and Urdu. No luck. . . . A story is told of both Plato and St. Ambrose [patron saint of bees] that when they were infants, a swarm of bees flew in and out of their mouths . . .
So. It’s likely I heard someone use “bee in the mouth” when I was a babe and it had a really deep impact. I don’t remember hearing anyone around me say it then, and I’ve never heard anyone say it since nor have I seen in printed until I saw this book’s title.At one time there was a belief that bees and the soul were somehow connected. Mohammed welcomes bees to Paradise. Coming to more recent times, in 1648 the following appeared in Robert Herrick’s “Mad Maid’s Song”: Ah, woe is mee, woe, woe is mee,/Alack and well-a-day! For pitty, sire, find out that bee,/Which bore my love away. I’le seek him in your bonnet brave.
Anybody have any information about this?