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  1. #1
    cyberwitch Guest

    Default The birds and the bees.

    Does anyone know why this phrase is used in the manner of explaining sex to our young? I am familiar with Cole Porter's song, "Let's Fall in Love," which contains the line, "Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. Let's do it, Let's fall in love," which, in context, has nothing to do with sex, but with love. However, scientifically, we believe that though all living organisms on good old Terra propagate one way or another, we do not believe that they all experience "love." Trying to explain this has got me in a round of circular logic that is defying my reasoning abilities.
    Who first used "Let's talk about the birds and the bees," when talking about the mechanics of sex, or even more confusing, the esoterica of 'sexuality,' and why?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: The birds and the bees.

    Quote Originally Posted by cyberwitch
    Does anyone know why this phrase is used in the manner of explaining sex to our young? I am familiar with Cole Porter's song, "Let's Fall in Love," which contains the line, "Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. Let's do it, Let's fall in love," which, in context, has nothing to do with sex, but with love. However, scientifically, we believe that though all living organisms on good old Terra propagate one way or another, we do not believe that they all experience "love." Trying to explain this has got me in a round of circular logic that is defying my reasoning abilities.
    Who first used "Let's talk about the birds and the bees," when talking about the mechanics of sex, or even more confusing, the esoterica of 'sexuality,' and why?
    Click here and here.

  3. #3
    cyberwitch Guest

    Default Re: The birds and the bees.

    Thanks Cas,
    Only one of your links worked. I found Cecil Adam's reference to the Morris dictionary helpful and have put their books on order as they have been out of print for some time. However, I found Adam's suggestion that the origin of this idiom may be related to Samuel Coleridge's "Work Without Hope" to be less likely than Porter's tune. But knowing Adam's penchant for perturbing answers to silly questions (like my own), along with some facts, this may just be his subtle sense of humor creeping in. I will check with the Morris' theory once I get their books. Their's was the vein I was going with when I got my logic looped. It hasn't helped.
    Any other theories out there?

  4. #4
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    The OED has nothing and I've tried a few other places but come up with nothing.

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    Default Re: The birds and the bees.

    My two cents:
    The birds and the bees is in reference to the symbiotic relationship between trees/plants and birds, between flowers and bees, and even between educated fleas and their hosts. Birds and bees have ways of "doing it" that allow the passing of genes from one generation to the next (See Charles Darwin's On the Origin Of Species (1859)).

    Is it about sex? Hmm. I doubt it. Most birds have no intromittent organ. Instead, sperm are transferred when the male touches his swollen cloaca briefly to that of a receptive female--a lightning-fast process known somewhat indelicately as the "cloacal kiss." As for plants, reproduction in many plant species is a sexual process analogous to that of animals. Pollen (equivalent to sperm) must find its way to the stigma (equivalent to the vagina). Flower visitors, principally bees, are essential in the transfer of pollen within and between flowers. Floral nectars and aromas attract bees and thus ensure adequate pollination and the reproductive success of the plant. Source

    Is it about propagating the species? I believe so. Birds disperse seeds to sites suitable for germination and establishment. Both the bird and the plant benefited from this relationship. We know the relationship is mutually beneficial for both species. If production is poor, birds may not breed the following spring. Many birds that eat seeds and berries include grouse, mourning doves, bluebirds, evening grosbeaks, robins, and pigeons. Source. The same symbiotic relatoionship holds for bees and flowers.

    One source suggests that using 'non-mammalian reproduction and floral pollination' to explain sexual reproduction was the scientific way of handling what was considered in Victorian times to be an unmentionable subject:

    Quote Originally Posted by writersblock.ca
    You don't have to sit the kids down and explain what those two dogs are doing on your front lawn, or why those people in the movie are so excited and seem to be having fun. Rather, you explain how a bee moves from flower to flower, taking pollen stuck to its furry body between them, allowing the flowers to produce seed. Not much fun in that. Birds? Well, isn't it comforting in our patriarchal society to explain how mom lays the egg, sits on it, and feeds the baby, while dad is out singing and showing off his more colourful plumage? It's reproduction without reference to genitalia, sex, or fun. Besides that, any expression that uses an alliteration tends to hang around. Alas, the expression's origins are overlooked, and surprisingly it doesn't appear in many dictionaries of idioms. Sounds Victorian, doesn't it?
    So 'the birds and the bees', or the phrase's origin at least, is not about "sex" per se. It's about passing on one's genes, propagating the species. Come to think of it, the species of bird that tends to be used to depict 'the birds' is usually a hummingbird, especially one drawing nectar from the flower so as to highlight the symbiotic relationship.

    Is the phrase 'the birds and the bees' really about anatomy?? I doubt it.

    Quote Originally Posted by humorist Dave Barry from the Miami Herald
    I am an observant person who has spent many hours outdoors, and I have never once seen a bird OR a bee have sex. I don't believe that, organ-wise, birds or bees have any equipment they can have sex WITH.
    It seems to me that if we're going to use animals to explain human sexuality to youngsters, we should pick a species whose anatomy and behavior at least vaguely resembles ours. So when your child - let's say his name is Billy - reached a certain age, instead of "the birds and the bees," you'd have a little talk with him about, say, "the dogs." You'd say: "Billy, the male dog wants to have sex pretty much all the time with pretty much every female dog on the entire planet, or, if no female is available, with another male dog, or the nearest human shin, or any low-lying furniture. Whereas the female dog... Billy? Come back here!" But Billy is gone, because he already knows all about human sexuality from watching cable television.
    Symbiotic relationship, that's the key. :D

    Honey bees and their life history and products were topics of study for early philosophers, such as Aristotle, Pliny, and Virgil. The view at that time: bees do not copulate; the way in which they "do it", propagate, is different from "sex". Aristotle, who wrote the first scientific study of the honeybee, History of Animals. 350 AD , states, 'Ants copulate', bees don't.Source. Virgil tells us that bees do not reproduce sexually but gather their offspring from leaves; on the other hand, the bees' gathering of honey is portrayed as a 'substitute for sexual activity'. Natural History, Book 11, 4-23 Source.

    In Medieval times, bees symbolized human souls and their drawing nectar from flowers represented taking mourishment from God (i.e., another symbiotic relationship!) The Latin phrase DAT ROSA MEL APIBUS translates as "The Rose gives honey to the bees." The souls are taking nourishment from the rosy-cross.
    Source.

    On an interesting note, Apes and apes, the Latin term for bees meaning born without feet (a- without, -pes feet) are homographs.

    "Romantic sponges do it . . . lazy jellyfish do it . . . even goldfish in the privacy of bowls do it . . ." but none of them "do it" (i.e., propagate the species) quite the way we humans "do it".

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