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Traditionally taken as the type of an industrious and productive worker. Bees are also the emblem of St Ambrose (see also beehive) and St John of Chancery.

There are a number of superstitions concerning bees, including various beliefs to do with death. The tradition of ‘telling the bees’ that the owner of their hive has died is a long-established one; it is believed that this will avert the death or disappearance of the bees.

a bee in one's bonnet an obsessive preoccupation with something (the expression is recorded from the 19th century). The phrase bees in the head was used in the early 16th century for someone regarded as crazy or eccentric, and the alliterative version with bonnet is indicated by the 17th century poet Herrick's reference to a bee in his ‘bonnet brave’ in his poem ‘Mad Maud's Song’ (Hesperides, 1648).

where bees are, there is honey industrious work is necessary to create riches; the saying may also be taken to imply that the presence of bees may be a sign of wealth. The saying is recorded from the early 17th century.

See also beehive, beeline.

Subjects: Arts and Humanities.

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