[Ads-l] the birds and the bees

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 20 22:29:59 EST 2021


Excellent antedating, Ben.

Here are two precursors although the key phrases mention additional animals.

Date: March 1, 1935
Newspaper: The Chalk Line
Newspaper Location: Johnson City, Tennessee
Article: Rude Interlude
Quote Page 8, Column 2
Database: Newspapers.com
https://www.newspapers.com/image/588956545/

[Begin excerpt]
Lucid Lucy, whose mother just the other day told her about the birds
and bees and flowers and rabbits and frogs, wants to know if exactly
seventy-five pounds of heat, pressure, heat (take your choice) is
necessary for an instructor to have a little bundle from heaven for
lecture demonstrations.
[End excerpt]

Date: October 18, 1935
Newspaper: Evansville Press
Newspaper Location: Evansville, Indiana
Article: Fair Enough
Author: Westbrook Pegler
Quote Page 6, Column 3
Database: Newspapers.com
https://www.newspapers.com/image/763252994/

[Begin excerpt]
It may be argued that persons who are old enough to attend a
university and learn the beautiful mystery of life from the birds and
bees and bullfrogs are old enough to come thru such association
uncontaminated. But there is a difference. In studying the beautiful
mystery of life under formal conditions in college the student
approaches the subject in a clean, wholesome way. He should approach
the beautiful mystery of government in a similar way. He should
experiment in college and class politics and government first, thus
preparing himself for experience to follow in mature life.
[End excerpt]

Garson

On Mon, Dec 20, 2021 at 11:04 AM Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> The latest OED update includes "the birds and the bees" (s.v. "bird"),
> defined as "the facts about human sexual functions and reproduction,
> especially as told to children. Often humorous, with allusion to the
> inadequate accounts given to young children." Earliest cite given is from
> 1943:
>
> ---
> 1943   Washington Post 17 June 16/1   The Selective Service System appears
> to have acquired only a very elementary, and somewhat garbled,
> understanding of the facts of life. It has learned, evidently about the
> birds and the bees, and the flowers and has been told that the period of
> human gestation is approximately nine months.
> ---
>
> There's also a note: "The evident familiarity of the phrase in the 1940s
> implies earlier use, though only general uses as a picturesque collocation
> seem to be recorded." And Jonathan Dent writes in his post on the update
> that "early uses imply a certain knowing familiarity which suggests that it
> had already been around for a while by that time."
> https://public.oed.com/blog/the-oed-december-2021-update/
>
> In a thread 10 years ago (see below), JL provided a 1939 cite that seemed
> to fit the bill, though it's a bit allusive. This cite from 1936, however,
> explicitly gives the context as sex education.
>
> ---
> https://www.newspapers.com/clip/90871805/birds-and-the-bees/
> Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI), Jan. 16, 1936, p. 13, col. 5
> MILWAUKEE -- When your child asks you to explain the mysteries of sex,
> don't put him off with vagaries about the birds and the bees.
> This was the advice today of Dr. Temple Burling, psychiatric director of
> the Winnetka, Ill., public schools, who addressed 200 men and women here to
> attend an institute on sex education of youth conducted by the women's
> court and civic conference.
> "The child is ready for sex education when he asks for it," Dr. Burling
> said. "Parents should answer such questions truthfully and in a natural
> tone and not put the child off with vagaries about the birds and the bees."
> ---
>
> (The same United Press wire story was published on Jan. 16, 1936 by the
> Journal Times of Racine, WI and the Green Bay Press-Gazette.)
>
> --Ben
>
>
> On Wed, Sep 28, 2011 at 1:09 PM Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>
> wrote:
>
> >
> > The following obviously went to George but was meant for all:
> >
> > 1939 _Brainerd [Minn.] Daily Dispatch_ (Feb. 20) 4 [NewspaperArchive]: A
> > Frenchman is born sophisticated. He knows about the birds and the bees.
> >
> > GB's exx. begin in 1942.
> >
> > Earlier exx.of "about the birds and the bees" refer to birds and bees. "The
> > flowers" are often added."  The phrase originally referred to a frequent
> > topic of sentimental nature poetry.
> >
> > So the figurative sense alludes, with a kind of cynical humor uncommon
> > before the 1920s or '30s, to the "ways of nature" in general. It does not
> > refer to the sex habits of actual birds and bees, a subject that, in this
> > context, would be of less-than-optimum value to modern pubescents.
> >
> >
> > PS: I suspect that the Nathan quote, found by Garson, may have
> > significantly
> > helped the idiom along, if isn't the actual origin.  _The Smart Set_ was a
> > notable sophisticated mag of the period, and the humor behind "about the
> > birds and the bees" is pretty sophisticated.
> >
> > Moreover, GB turns up 432 19th C. exx. of "the birds and the bees," proving
> > that the collocation was already a cliche' by 1900.
> >
> > Relevant, from a forerunner of Dr. Spock. Emma Marwedel (1818-1893) was a
> > pioneer in the U.S. kindergarten movement, so her book was presumably
> > influential. Here's how an 1880s mom should introduce her widdu wun to the
> > wonder of plants
> >
> >
> > 1887 Emma Marwedel _Conscious Motherhood_ (Chicago: Interstate) 283:
> > Another resemblance to the human family I will mention. All little children
> > have papas and mammas, you know, and so have all flower babies. It is true,
> > these vegetable parents usually resemble each other more exactly than human
> > papas and mammas do, but sometimes they are even more different from each
> > other in appearance than are your own dear papa and mamma. Sometimes,
> > indeed, the flower papa lives on an entirely separate tree, or bush, from
> > the flower mamma, as in the date-palm and others; but when he does, he is
> > always sending her love messages and gifts by the birds and the bees.
> >
> > George Jean Nathan was born in 1882. Hmmm.......
> >
> > JL
> >
> > On Wed, Sep 28, 2011 at 12:33 PM, Garson O'Toole
> > <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com>wrote:
> > >
> > > Here is a 1922 citation that sardonically links "the birds, the bees
> > > and the flowers" to learning about sex. Note, this instance of "The
> > > Blue Lagoon" predates Brooke Shields.
> > >
> > > Cite: 1922 July, The Smart Set, Portrait of a Theatrical Season by
> > > George Jean Nathan, Page 133, [Ess Ess Pub. Co.] Smart set Company,
> > > New York. (Google Books full view)
> > > http://books.google.com/books?id=0y0cAAAAIAAJ&q=bees#v=snippet&
> > >
> > > <Begin excerpt>
> > > "The Blue Lagoon," by H. DeVere Stacpoole.--The boy and girl brought
> > > up on the deserted island who learn the secrets of sex from the birds,
> > > the bees and the flowers. In bed at 9:45.
> > > <End excerpt>
> > >
> > > Garson
> > >
> > > On Wed, Sep 28, 2011 at 12:04 PM, George Thompson
> > > <george.thompson at nyu.edu> wrote:
> > > >
> > > > This message got sent by accident, incomplete.
> > > >
> > > > JL has replied off-list with a citation from a newspaper of 1939.
> > > >
> > > > I had made an insincere effort to search the Proquest historical
> > > newspapers
> > > > -- it's not my idea of fun --but saw nothing likely within 50 years of
> > > the
> > > > introduction of the concept of pollination (through the 1920s).  JL's
> > > > citation and another I had found but not noted, but from roughly the
> > same
> > > > era, suggest that the trope was well-known by then.
> > > > My notion of this trope is that the little one is invited to remember
> > > seeing
> > > > mommy hen sitting on her eggs (or mommy robin, or mommy pigeon, if
> > > > hen-houses are not part of the kid's experience), well, those eggs
> > > > developed. . . .  And what got those eggs started? well, just as the
> > > little
> > > > bee flies to a flower and gathers up pollen. . . .
> > > > So the bees wouldn't have entered the story before the late 19th C.
> > > >  Colonial parents might have wised up their kids by referring to birds,
> > > > though.
> > > >
> > > > The TLS article has a nice story about Noel Coward, who was with a
> > child
> > > > when they saw a pair of dogs copulating.  "What are they doing, Uncle
> > > Noel?"
> > > > (or words to that effect).  Coward explained that the dog in front was
> > > blind
> > > > and the other was pushing it to St. Dunstan's.
> > > >
> > > > GAT
> > > >
> > > >
> > > >> On Wed, Sep 28, 2011 at 10:37 AM, George Thompson <
> > > george.thompson at nyu.edu
> > > >> > wrote:
> > > >>>
> > > >>> There is a long essay/review in last week's (I think) TLS on an
> > exhibit
> > > at
> > > >>> a
> > > >>> London Museum on sexual behavior in man and in other animals.  In the
> > > >>> course
> > > >>> of the review, the writer alludes to "the birds and the bees" as the
> > > >>> parental launching pad for enlightening a child about sex.  Oddly,
> > the
> > > >>> writer has the notion that the bees get into the story because of the
> > > >>> sex-life of the swarm -- the single female queen pursued by the bunch
> > > of
> > > >>> hrny males, the drones and the worker bees, and so forth.
> > > >>>
> > > >>> I note that the expression is not in the OED.  It does appear from
> > the
> > > OED
> > > >>> that knowledge of the process of pollination reached the
> > > English-speaking
> > > >>> world in 1873, which is liely to be the terminus
> > > >>>
> >
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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


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