I came across a line in a New York Times review today that brought me up short. The thing being reviewed “seems to wander wherever it wants instead of heading beelike toward its goal.” And I thought: beelike? Meaning, like a bee? Is that what the fellow means to say?
I had a conversation with my children a few days ago about animal clichés that were the reverse of what they ought to be. Horses are notoriously prone to a thousand diseases, but we describe a healthy person as being like a horse. Dogs, on the other hand, are not particularly weak of constitution, but when we are sick, we are sick as a dog. I don’t know whether clams are particularly prone to happiness (or whether bucks are particularly prone to undress or stupidity for that matter) but crows tend to circle their goals and coots have nicely feathered heads. And neither goats nor geese strike me as terribly giddy.
So I suppose I’m adding bee-line to the list, since my own observation of bees is that they do not take the most direct and shortest route toward their destination. They do return to their hive (as a chicken comes home to roost, or as a dog returns to its vomit) but in a circuitous route with a lot of changes of direction. They meander. The supposed derivation of the phrase requires (it seems to me) extended observation over time to determine the eventual destination of the bee in question, rather than just glancing over at the thing making a bee-line. I don’t know if there is an animal that is actually particularly prone to traveling in a straight line (other than the Zax, of course) but it isn’t in the Apoidea.