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The Origins of Popular Insect Idioms

November 9, 2016

Idioms are great alternative expressions to respond to everyday situations. Overuse them and they’ll annoy anybody with ears, but an idiom here and there varies up your vocabulary so you can appear smarter than you really are.

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Someone isn’t fitting into your group of friends? Don’t call them different; ease them down by calling them a mere ‘fish out of water’. Your colleague looks like death incarnate – instead of saying, ‘you look terrible’, just say ‘you look green around the gills’ and let them figure it out. If anyone calls you out for what you really mean, tell them you’re not stirring up a hornet’s nest here, and swiftly run in the opposite direction.

There’s all sorts of practical uses for idioms, from impressing people with your knowledge, to avoiding verbal confrontations. Since we’re pest removal specialists, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite bug-and-insect idioms, along with their meaning, origin, and some interesting facts.

“You Have Ants in Your Pants!”

The exact origin of this idiom that’s as well recognized as it is annoying isn’t known. ‘Ants in your pants’ is believed to have come from the United States, the land where ‘underwear’ is interchangeable with ‘pants’. A potential candidate for the idiom’s origin is Chick Webb and His Orchestra’s 1934 recording ‘I Can’t Dance (I Got Ants in my Pants)’, who may’ve been singing from experience.

Ants in your pants, as you can probably guess, refers to someone who is fidgety and restless. They can’t sit still, acting like they truly have crawlers in their pants that’re keeping them wriggling. Luckily, the term isn’t ‘carpenter ants in your pants’, as their propensity for biting would have one screaming rather than squirming.

Fun Fact: If ants did manage to find their way into your trousers, you may have a recurring ant infestation problem. Ants leave pheromones everywhere they go, so even if you manage to shake them out, other ants will be able to find your legs thanks to the lingering scent.

“You’re the Bee’s Knees!”

The bee’s knees originated in the late 18th century, but didn’t carry the same meaning it does today. Rather than a slang term for something stylish and awesome, it was used as a shorthand for weak or insignificant (like a bee’s knee, get it). The phrase was re-purposed in the 1920′s, when other animalistic idioms were what the cool kids were saying: the ‘cat’s whiskers’, the ‘snake’s hips’, the ‘flea’s eyebrows’, and so on.

The bee’s knees refers to anything you think is exceptional, much like a real bee’s leg. While they’re relatively small and weak, they help the bee become the best cross pollinator in the insect kingdom.

Fun Fact: Bees legs do bend, so it’s fair to say they have knees! Attached to their legs, near the joints, are small sacs that carry pollen. No other animal on the planet can claim they have their own knee pockets, meaning the bee’s knees really denotes something special.

“Snug as a Bug in a Rug.”

If you’re familiar with 16th century English plays, you’ll recognize this idiom.

For the few of you that aren’t, ‘snug as a bug in a rug’ first appeared in Francis Gentleman’s satirical The Stratford Jubilee play, published in 1769. It was more famously used in a letter to Georgiana Shipley, written by Benjamin Franklin in 1772.

The idiom refers to someone or something that’s all bundled up and snuggled in.

Fun Fact: The bug you’d most likely find snug in a rug would be the bed bug. They can settle into the small spaces or crevices in a rug, and stay there for a long time; bed bugs can live for months without eating.

“A Fly on the Wall.”

An American phrase coined in the 1920′s, ‘a fly on the wall’ first appeared in writing via The Oakland Tribune in 1921:

“I’d just love to be a fly on the wall when the Right Man comes along.”

Taking the idiom at face value is more or less what the phrase means. The expression alludes to being able to oversee a situation from an uninterrupted, unnoticed vantage point. Like a real fly on the wall, you don’t notice them, but they’re free to observe everything.

Fun Fact: Flies are master observers. Their ‘two’ eyes are each comprised of 3,000 to 6,000 tiny eyes each. They’re individually responsible for different parts of where the fly is looking, which is why they’re so difficult to swat!

“A Bee in Your Bonnet.”

Another bee idiom, ‘a bee in your bonnet’ also dates back to the 16th century. It made its claim to fame in 1513, in Alexander Douglas’s now-infamous Aeneid:

“Quhat bern be thou in bed with heid full of beis?”

Hilarious phonetics aside, the expression means being preoccupied or obsessed with an eccentric idea. The imagery of a bee in your bonnet is supposed to conjure an agitated, myopic state someone would likely be in if they had a bee causing chaos near the noggin. Can seamlessly transition with ‘maggots in your braines’, too.

Another Fun Bee Fact: Would there be anything more irritating than having a bee stuck in your hat? First of all, your day’s of peace and quiet would end: that consistent buzzing sound comes from their wings that beat 11,400 times per minute would drive anyone nuts. And it’d never end, since honey bees never sleep!

If your household pest problem has you bug-eyed, our pest control service can get you out of that fine kettle of fish (that’s a bad thing).

Make a beeline for our contact page to learn more about Magical Pest’s pest removal treatments!

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