bee in the mouth

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bee in the mouth

Post by Shelley » Wed Dec 12, 2007 3:28 am

I must tell about a recent coincidence. There is a point to it.

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:
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 . . .
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:
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.
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.

Anybody have any information about this?
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bee in the mouth

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Dec 12, 2007 4:06 am

I looked up Peter Wood's book on Amazon and saw that it was published only in January 2007, so clearly it had no role in your awareness of the expression.

I've never heard this term before today, and a Google search that excluded 'Peter' as a search term (which netted just 32 hits) showed that it is very rare -- in fact, apart from the title of his book, almost all hits related to situations that actually involved people or animals somehow getting bees into their mouths. Without the exclusion term I obtained 683 hits, which strongly suggests that the title of the book accounts for almost all the occurrences currently found on the internet.

My conclusion: the title of the book and the content of your childish dream are highly unlikely to be connected by any pre-existing expression.
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bee in the mouth

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Dec 12, 2007 4:57 am

Shelley, The only thing I could come up with that may have had a connection with that Boston workman saying “A bee in the mouth is always bad” is that there is an old folk-belief from the British Isles (and Boston is renowned for its Irish population) connecting bees and death:
<1961 “The soul was sometimes said to take the form of a bee for a short time immediately after death. There are also tales of bees issuing from the mouths of sleepers and later re-entering their bodies by the same way. If such a bee was killed, or otherwise prevented from returning, the man [[PC, person]] died.”—The Encyclopedia of Superstitions by E. Horsley and C. Hole, page 39>
I don’t know if this is the source of the expression, but for one who believed in this superstition a bee in the mouth was certainly something to worry about, especially if it took off and didn’t make the return flight. (>:) And that surely is an eerie connection with your sleep!
_______________________

Ken – December 11, 2007
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bee in the mouth

Post by gdwdwrkr » Wed Dec 12, 2007 9:36 am

Motorcyclists know about bees.....
also I'm reminded of the sword that comes
out of Jesus' mouth in Revelation, and
the common, but maybe seldom spoken-of
imagery of the anxious dreams of youth,
such as the gaping cracks in the earth
separating child from parents in the
good old separation-anxiety dream...
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bee in the mouth

Post by Shelley » Wed Dec 12, 2007 4:06 pm

Thanks, all. Yeah, Ken, I sure don't want to think about the significance of life-stealing bees to a 2-year old's subconscious . The Boston locale and British Isles superstition might figure into it, as my parents were living in Boston at the time. Apparently, the landlady had six fingers and spent a lot of time with me. I was hoping someone would respond with, "Oh, my grandmother used to say that every time my grandfather went stomping out the door to the corner bar!", or something like that.

I had a theory that the buzzing of an alarm clock conjured the bee image in my dream. Although, I remember the dream, any evidence to its source is limited to a couple of lines in a Baby Book. I guess it'll just have to remain one of "those things". Like Erik says, sometimes "a bee in the mouth" is just a bee in the mouth -- and a bad thing, no doubt.
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bee in the mouth

Post by dalehileman » Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:32 pm

Shelly in Freudian terms your dream might reflect your concern for an unkind remark by a friend or colleague or (and this may sound farfetchd but it isn't) anger at someone whose name starts with B and you think should get stung in the mouth
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bee in the mouth

Post by Tony Farg » Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:41 pm

I bet the landlady was a great banjo player
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bee in the mouth

Post by gdwdwrkr » Wed Dec 12, 2007 11:16 pm

When did you begin to eat alphabet soup?
Did your Father eat this soup with you?
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bee in the mouth

Post by JANE DOErell » Wed Dec 12, 2007 11:45 pm

I am not familiar with the phrase but I recall from my youth on the farm that it was fairly common for dogs to snap at bees and sometimes catch one and get stung in the mouth. The response amused old farmers.
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bee in the mouth

Post by Shelley » Thu Dec 13, 2007 8:29 pm

gdwd: Alphabet soup was a staple of our diet during those years: it was one of the few things we all could eat -- saved on buying separate food for the baby! And y'know, you could bee on to something there -- "B is for bee" is a cute lesson, but maybe not while eating! Hmmm.

Jane: If you google the phrase you get a few listings having to do with dogs with bee-stings, after the several references to Peter Wood's book.
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bee in the mouth

Post by Tony Farg » Fri Dec 14, 2007 4:44 pm

Can we stop now, please before someone re-introduces that "great B" again.
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