bee in your bonnet

If you have a bee in your bonnet about something, you are obsessed or preoccupied with the subject. It may refer to someone who talks with great excitement about something they can’t stop thinking about or discussing. For example, “She has a bee in her bonnet about the current pollution problem” describes someone who is troubled about pollution and is going to great lengths to discuss it with as many people as possible. It can also apply, of course, to a subject you’re angry about.

The origin of the English saying “bee in your bonnet” seems to date to the early 16th century, when Alexander Douglas wrote about someone being in bed with a head full of bees. Going to bed with a head full of bees would seem to describe someone who can’t take his or her mind off something that he or she feels is important. 

My head certainly feels full of bees at say 3 a.m. when I can’t stop reliving the nightmare I just had, or can’t stop reminding myself of all the things I intend to do during the oncoming day. 

Some people suggest that the “bonnet” part of the phrase might have been derived from the large bonnet that a beekeeper wears. Hence, if a beekeeper were to have a bee in his or her bonnet, it would be very difficult for him or her to focus on anything else.

However, further research suggest that the expression may well be Scottish. Early bonnets were caps worn by men and boys and, though they had gone out of use in England by the time the phrase emerged, they continued to be used in Scotland.

The exact phrase was published in Thomas De Quincey’s Coleridge & Opium-eating in 1845: “John Hunter, notwithstanding he had a bee in his bonnet, was really a great man.” It is not known whether this was the first time the phrase was published, but it would appear that the phrase was in use at the time, because the author does not explain it, and thus must have assumed that the reader understood its meaning. Since then, the phrase “bee in your bonnet” has become a common English saying.

I guess if you’re an apiarist, you could be said to have a bee in your bonnet about bees.

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