This is a question that has been on my mind ever since my encounter with the movie Akeelah and the Bee in 2006, and I was again reminded of it when I saw the term in a recent article.
Like many historians and students of language my assumption was that it had to do with that ever-busy, honey producing insect, the bee.
Commonly understood as a gathering of friends or people joined by common cause, bee used in print traces its origins to 1769, according to www.spellingbee.com.
Other early notations on record, spellingbee.com says are husking bee (1816), apple bee (1827), and logging bee (1836). ‘It was customary at these bees for everyone to get together to perform whatever task, then afterwards have a party with refreshments, Todayifoundout.com claims.
There was also lynching bee, which all sources agree, had a more sinister implication.
Many sources attribute Spelling Bee to the Americans, first appearing in print in 1875.
The term ‘bee’ has been used in the USA with the meaning of ‘gathering’, either for work, pleasure or competition, since the mid-18th century, Phrases.UK.org says.
But the British also lay claim.
Spellingbee.com says: “One possibility is that it comes from the Middle English word bene, which means ‘a prayer’ or ‘a favour’ (and is related to the more familiar word boon). In England, a dialect form of this word, been or bean, referred to ‘voluntary help given by neighbours toward the accomplishment of a particular task.’ (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary).”
Blog.dictionary.com says, “This derivation counters a long-held belief that bee refers to the buzzing insect and the social nature of a beehive.”
Of all the bees that remain, Spelling seems to be at the helm. Phrases.uk.org says, that the Spelling Bee is most commonly used, not to say that spelling competitions weren’t in full swing before, but they only came to be known as spelling bees by the early 19th century.
If you can spell ‘connoisseur’ you too might have what it takes to pit your skills against spellers of the world as it is recorded as the most common word asked for in the history of the Scripps National Spelling, Todayifoundout.com says.
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