Fly Straight Like a Honeybee

Honey Bee Flying
The idiom make a beeline for is a bit of a mystery as we watch the erratic dance of bees

Most of us have watched bees as they “buzz” from flower to flower. Their flight pattern is anything but straight. They zig, they zag, they hover and finally they land on a flower’s center to indulge in nectar, pick up pollen and return to the hive where they make that sweet stuff that most of us have grown up with—honey.

So, the idiom make a beeline for is a bit of a mystery as we watch the erratic dance of bees.

And one of the key tenements of geometry is the well-known fact that the straightest distance between two points is a straight line (hated math, loved geometry). So, what’s with bees and beelines? And why have we developed this helpful idiom to describe the most-direct route from “A” to “B(ee)”?

The mystery is solved after honeybees have finished their business in the flower patch. Loaded with nectar and pollen, they fly straight back to the hive (hence, the “beeline”) where they communicate the source of their sweet harvest to the hive mind that awaits them.

Making a beeline for something or for someone is most often used in a positive sense. There is, more often than not, something simply satisfying or rewarding at the end of the “beeline.” It could be something as simple as supper that awaits us, or that cup of Joe that we’ve been waiting for after a long day at home, in the office or on the work site.

Or we may make a beeline for the nearest restroom when nature calls. Whatever the motivation for the beeline, it is at the very least appealing and sometimes even urgent. It “requires” us to take that straight line, the shortest distance between two points, the quickest route, which is, of course, often debateable in traffic. My husband and I have our own ideas about what the quickest routes are when going downtown and back home again. But, of course, the directness of those routes is challenging to prove except in the absence of traffic and under ideal conditions that would really require a test environment—never as straightforward as the “shortest distance between two points is a straight line” because there are rarely those straight lines in getting to our destinations.

So, when you are in a hurry and you are determined to avoid unnecessary stops or detours, you can make a beeline to “that place.”

No hurry? No worries. Just zig a little, zag a little and hover for a bit and enjoy that cup of coffee you’ve been thinking about for the past … ummm … well, at least for the time it’s taken you to read this column and be reminded about it.

PHOTO: Here’s a wonderful site about bees (including how they fly):

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