have a bee in one's bonnet

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redgiant

Senior Member
Cantonese, Hong Kong
Hi, suppose someone watched the creepy video about a woman acting strangely in an elevator of a 2-star hotel before she went missing. He kept reading other people's theories on her demeanor and rewatching the footage trying to find if there was something paranormal in the elevator. He kept talking about the case with his friends all day as if he was hired to work on it. Can his preoccupation be construed as "have a bee in one's bonnet"?

Example: He got a real bee in his bonnet about that strange footage about the missing woman.
 
  • e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    To have a bee in one's bonnet is an idiom meaning to have an obsessive preoccupation with something (Oxford Dictionary of Idioms).It was first used to describe someone who was crazy.

    I would say He had rather than He got.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    Example: He's got a real bee in his bonnet about that strange footage about the missing woman.
    One little change and your sentence is perfect. That being said...

    ... how old are you/how old do you want to sound? "To have a bee in one's bonnet" is stuffy-sounding. You could either say this to be funny - but the situation doesn't necessarily seem that amusing - or to sound schoolmarmish.

    You could say "He's obsessed with..." as a neutral alternative.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I don't think the expression "to have a bee in one's bonnet" is in any way stuffy. It is a normal, everyday expression, and is widely used. The dictionary in context link has plenty of current examples.

    In any case, redgiant was not asking for alternative ways of saying what he wanted to say, only if the bee in one's bonnet expression was appropriate in his suggested context - it is.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    It doesn't sound in the least "stuffy" to me, but perhaps it's more common in the UK than in California (where, I suppose, there are more bees and possibly more bonnets).
    Sorry for my off-topic remark!!
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I don't mean to drag the conversation off-topic, but (to my American ear) the phrase is associated with the past. An ngram shows it peaking in popularity in the early 20th century. That's about what I had assumed.

    I think the phrase is correctly used, but it might make the listener smile (which might not be exactly what you want to do).
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    There may be a BE/AE difference, lucas. It is commonly seen here and certainly wouldn't be seen as amusing or dated - did you look at the in context link I provided? There are AE examples there as well as plenty of BE.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I did, and most of the bees seemed to be in BE bonnets.

    Here's an AE example that feels right to me:
    Nevertheless, Brownstein's explanatory point—that Obama has been liberated by his new coalition to not worry so much about what old white guys think—is basically sound, even if the coalition isn't really new (it's essentially the same coalition he won with in 2008). A Democratic party that isn't constantly terrified of what some mythical Reagan Democrat might get a bee in his bonnet about is a party that can offer a clearer identity and agenda to the public. For a long time, we've had one party that forged a clear identity, and another whose answer to everything seemed to be, "It's complicated." (http://prospect.org/article/obama-moving-left)
    You can see that there's a very lighthearted, jocular tone, and the silly-sounding "bee in the bonnet" phrase is contributing to that tone. (Nowadays it sounds similarly odd to talk about "flipping one's wig," but "flipping" all by itself or "flipping out" wouldn't sound odd at all.)

    EDIT: Messing around with ngrams suggests that bees fly/few into British bonnets about twice as often as into American bonnets. So the phrase is probably better-established and thus stands out less in BE, even if it is comparatively rarer today than it was in the past.
     

    redgiant

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    It seems like I just accidentally ran into another AmE/BrE difference. Like Lucas, when I made up this sentence, I did find the lighthearted tone or effeminate image of "have a bee in the bonnet" a little bit out of place in reference to this haunting case. And I wasn't sure if it was still in current use as bonnets are something I would see in history books. I'm glad to know that it is by no means dated and jarring in BrE. Perhaps other AmE speakers can chime in so Lucas will not feel outnumbered. :D
     
    Last edited:

    Miss Julie

    Senior Member
    English-U.S.
    It seems like I just accidentally ran into another AmE/BrE difference. Like Lucas, when I made up this sentence, I did find the lighthearted tone or effeminate image of "have a bee in the bonnet" a little bit out of place in reference to this haunting case. And I wasn't sure if it was still in current use as bonnets are something I would see in history books. I'm glad to know that it is by no means dated and jarring in BrE. Perhaps other AmE speakers can chime in so Lucas will not feel outnumbered. :D
    I also think it's term used by old people...and by "old" I mean 20 years older than I am. :D
     
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