&   SEARCH
David A. Cushman logo
Is it "Honeybee" or "Honey Bee"?

Which is right?
Something else for beekeepers to argue about!

The way some words relevant to beekeeping are written often results in as many opinions as beekeeping does itself. Although in general I like to see things correct if possible, I prefer to have the views of the writer than perfect presentation. If I can understand it, that is good enough for me, but it might not suit others.

When writing for this website, newsletters and magazines I often have problems that need correcting. I don't mind admitting that when I write something for general publication I often ask others to proof read what I have written, so they can check my "Sussex English" and the grammar. One person I ask regularly is Brian Dennis.

What triggered this page is I was asked to update a booklet that had been in existence for several years, but had what I considered to be factual errors, ambiguity and contradiction. There were some words that were written in several different ways, including "honeybee", "honey bee", "bee keepers", "beekeeper's", etc, so I asked Brian for his comments. He sent me the following, which I thought would make an interesting page. R.P.

To bee or not to bee (With apologies to William Shakespeare.)

1. honeybee, honey bee or honey-bee?

(cf beekeeper, bee keeper, bee-keeper - or should this be bees keeper, since we keep more than one bee? - beekeeping, bee-keeping, Bee-Keeping, etc.)

In the preface of his 1956 classic Anatomy of the Honey Bee the American entomologist Robert E. Snodgrass explains the book's title:

First, it must be explained why the name of the bee appears in the title as two words, though "honeybee" is the customary form in the literature of apiculture. Regardless of dictionaries, we have in entomology a rule for insect common names that can be followed. It says: If the insect is what its name implies, write the two words separately; otherwise run them together. Thus we have such names as house fly, blow fly and robber fly contrasted with dragonfly, caddicefly and butterfly, because the latter are not flies, just as an aphislion is not a lion and a silverfish is not a fish. The honey bee is an insect and is pre-eminently a bee; "honeybee" is equivalent to "Johnsmith".

A second quote is much more recent and a little easier to read. It appears as the Author's Note in Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen (2008):

Copyeditors1 of the world beware. The spelling of insect names in this book follows the rules of the Entomological Society of America, not Merriam-Webster's. When a species is a true example of a particular taxon, that taxon is written separately. Honey bees and bumble bees2 are true bees and black flies are true flies. A yellowjacket, however, is not a true jacket. Entomologists, who have to read the names of bugs a lot more than the rest of us do, would appreciate it if we all followed these rules.

The word bee is a noun. The adjective that describes the type of bee goes before it e.g. honey bee, sweat bee, carpenter bee. When you go to the grocery store - not grocerystore - you buy runner beans and broad beans not runnerbeans and broadbeans. Similarly, the word fly. If what you are referring to is really a fly, an adjective is used to describe the type of fly e.g. hover fly. But if it is not a fly, a new noun is needed to describe it. For example, a butterfly is not a fly and butter does not describe it - it can be modified with an adjective e.g. blue butterfly (but not written as bluebutterfly or blue butter fly). It is not just pedantry. When you see, for example, the word glowworm you understand it is not a worm, and you conclude that a stag beetle is a beetle.

Unlike R. E. Snodgrass (Anatomy of the Honey Bee), H. A. Dade's excellent anatomy book is titled Anatomy and Dissection of the Honeybee and honeybee is the spelling in the text. Prof. Thomas D. Seeley wrote The Wisdom of the Hive - The Social Physiology of the Honey Bee Colonies (1996), Honeybee Ecology (1985) and Honeybee Democracy (2010). In the latter book, he refers to, for example, worker bees and a queen bee, not worker honeybees and a queen honeybee, which is inconsistent.

The Smithsonian Natural History Museum displayed a notice in the entomological section (2014) which read Consider the Honeybee - there's no mistaking a honeybee for a bumble!


1. Also written as copy editor, copy-editor.

2. Usually spelt bumblebee!

2. British Beekeepers Association v British Beekeepers' Association (or any beekeeping association).

They are both correct. It depends on whether you see it as an association of British beekeepers [British Beekeepers Association], or an Association which belongs to British beekeepers [British Beekeeper's Association].

In my opinion, it should be the former i.e. British Beekeepers Association.

Brian P. Dennis.

Page created 23/11/2015

Page updated 15/12/2018