"Birds and the Bees"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Jul 2 22:46:42 UTC 2007

FWIW, the reproductive sense of "the birds and the bees" was well established by my childhood in the mid 1950s.

  As for any connection with Coleridge, a quick scan of Google Boogles shows that "birds" and "bees" were often paired in nineteenth-century odes to the ways of nature. Bear in mind too that the "word sleuths" may have quite misconstrued what "Sam had on his mind," since the bees in the passage are making honey rather than whoopee, and the birds, though pairing up, are "on the wing," not "in the sack."


Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
Subject: Re: "Birds and the Bees"

On 7/2/07, Fred Shapiro wrote:
> A doctoral student working on her dissertation has e-mailed me asking
> about the origins of the expression "the birds and the bees" as a
> euphemism for sex. Can anyone supply any information about early uses of
> this phrase? I don't see it in OED or HDAS.

I haven't searched for the phrase, but The American Heritage
Dictionary of Idioms dates it to the latter half of the 19th century.
Cecil Adams cites the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins,
suggesting that Coleridge's "Work Without Hope" (1825) was a possible

Where exactly "the birds and the bees" originated nobody
knows, but word sleuths William and Mary Morris hint that
it may have been inspired by words like these from the poet
Samuel Coleridge: "All nature seems at work ... The bees
are stirring--birds are on the wing ... and I the while,
the sole unbusy thing, not honey make, nor pair, nor build,
nor sing." Making honey, pairing ... yes, we can definitely
tell what Sam had on his mind.


--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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