mind your own beeswax

In this phrase, “beeswax” is just a convenient substitution for “business.” The phrase “mind your own business” has been around for a long time, and is a direct way to tell someone to pay attention to their own affairs rather than yours. Changing “business” to “beeswax” was probably done to make it sound a bit funny and therefore a little less harsh. The Greek phrase is “manage yourself.”

The first of the coins minted by the US under The Coinage Act of 1792, display the words “Mind Your Business” on one side.

But the first record of “mind your own beeswax” does not appear until 1929, in a children’s book, with additional early records following in 1934 and 1939. 

There are various theories about the origin of the phrase. One popular story, circulated by a chain e-mail called Little History Lesson, made the rounds in 2000. This story, which is pure myth, says that back in the 1700s and 1800s, women who bore smallpox marks used beeswax to smooth out their complexion. If someone commented, a woman would say, “mind your own beeswax,” as in, “stop staring at mine.”

Pockmarks were considered unattractive, but rather than using beeswax, women would stick brightly coloured pieces of cloth on their faces to cover the marks. They also sometimes used face powder, which was made from lead flakes, not exactly a healthy solution.

A second popular theory is that women in the colonial period would sit by the fire making beeswax candles and if they got too close, the wax would begin to melt. However, by the mid-1800s, beeswax was starting to be phased out in favor of candles made of animal fat. Besides, it seems to me that whether you use beeswax or fat to make candles, the substance has to be melted in order to pour it into molds. So, naturally the beeswax has to get close to the fire.

In any case, there is no record of “mind your own beeswax” until 1929, so I think we can dump both those theories in favor of “beeswax” simply being a substitute for “business.”

I’m all in favor of being clear and direct in expressing my thoughts, but I must say that the creation of euphemisms certainly gives rise to some interesting explanations of them.

  One thought on “mind your own beeswax

  1. February 13, 2022 at 7:37 am

    And you awaken our love of words through blogs like this. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Leanne Taylor
    February 14, 2022 at 3:26 am

    Intriguing, “Mind Your Business” on those coins!
    This makes me wonder how and why that came to be there.

    Thank you for always minding our brains with new and interesting information!

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 14, 2022 at 6:39 am

      I wonder about that coin, too, but haven’t taken time to try to follow it up.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: