bee stories English for beekeepers miscellaneous musings

Are they worker bees, girls, or units?

Writing a blog is fun, especially when readers write comments and e-mails. This morning I opened a message with an e-mail address I had seen before. It was a long piece, so I scanned it first. My eyes fell on the phrase “apis production unit” as in “The apis production units are now building comb . . . .” Say what? Further on the phrase was shortened, as in “zillions of production units.” Eventually it became even more succinct as in, “the units have to crawl over it.” (emphasis added)

I had to read the message word-by-word before I figured out that the writer—knowing my dislike for the term “girls” and in deference to my delicate psyche—had renamed them, “apis production units.” Now I was laughing out loud.

I admit to writing from time to time that I don’t use the term “girls” because I think it’s weird. But I have no problem with someone else using it. It’s just a choice—mine and theirs. I won’t get a fit of the vapors if someone uses the word in my presence. Still, it was a sweet gesture.

Unfortunately, the writer doesn’t know my issues with the word “unit.” My husband uses “unit” indiscriminately, which drives me crazy. He might be talking about the stove, as in “I’d like to replace that unit” or the refrigerator as in, “that unit doesn’t fit as well as the last one” or the dishwasher, “the door on that unit . . .” Or it could be cars, “Ford produced more units than . . . .”

Why, oh why, can’t we just name the object and be done with it? But no, I’m clueless. I have to guess what we’re talking about. Constantly. (I don’t know if I should blame this quirk on the fact that he’s an engineer or that he’s Canadian. It has to be one or the other . . . but, I digress.)

In spite of my personal hang-ups, the writer of the e-mail is my hero of the day. He made me laugh. I picture him on a white steed with a suit of golden maille and “zillions” of apis production units swirling about his helmet. Never offending the ladies, chivalry is job one.

Oh, one more thing: when I get tired of blogging about APUs I’m going to blog about English. Trust me. But you already know that . . . .




  • In cooking school, everything was “product.” Didn’t matter if it was produce or meat. Took me a while to get used to it, longer for my husband, but it kinda makes sense if you’re focusing on the theory not the thing. BTW, apologies for my bad English here, but I’m kinda stressed and was just drafting a post on being tired of blogging. I’m just about over it. If only I had actual bees – oh wait, APUs – to play with. Thanks for the fun post. – HB

    • Intangible things are “product” as well–insurance policies, vacation packages, even services. So, yeah, that’s another word I have issues with. It’s kind of strange how innocent words with no malice can bother us.

  • It seems we have to put honey in jars and that those jars should be labeled with something that distinguishes their contents from all the other kinds of honey. In our tiny survey to name our honey production units, we all agreed on “Coastal Honey Girls”, and the slogan, “Without the “girls,” there’d be no honey.” I’m sorry, but we just couldn’t help trying to sound cute. We live on the Intra-Coastal Waterway on Florida’s west coast. “Intra-Coastal Honey Girls”? – more informative, but too technical sounding, less friendly.

    Part of the motivation was to give more credit to the bee than to the beekeeper. Some may not know that we are talking about the bees and assume the beekeepers are women. Just as well. We figure people will be more likely to buy honey from women, anyway. Women just seem friendlier. Compare “Thank heaven for little girls,” as Maurice Chevalier wrote in his song with Winnie-the-Pooh’s observation, “You never can tell with bees.” Pooh, of course was 100% right, but bees just aren’t sexy. Bee sex is too clinical, as in everyone’s first discussion with their parents about “the birds and the bees.”

    I had another idea for selling honey. I just started keeping bees and I do not yet have plans to produce much more honey we can eat ourselves or give away to friends, but who knows where a good idea might come from, right? My idea is to sell honey, not by the type of flower the bees frequented while making it, but by the specific region. If it is more beneficial to eat local honey, then the more local the better. Who cares what flower it came from, especially when that cannot be easily determined (see Pooh’s observation, above).

    Perhaps we should rather think of honey as coming from a specific region or neighborhood the way European wines are. With wine, the region is more deterministic than the type of grape. I had this idea when I was sitting at my desk at work, dipping into my honey jar from home. This was honey from My bees made from All the flowers in my neighborhood. That is what made it special. There was nostalgia and longing for place. People might order honey from their home town, just to have that connection, or be tempted to pick up a sample while on vacation. What a great souvenir to literally taste your holiday over and over again, because the honey keeps so well.

    Was I talking about girls, bees, flowers or wine? Don’t know, but it sure can be hard to stop once you get started. Thanks for the space.

  • Is vinegar a good agent for overall hive body cleaning – given that they would have plenty of time to dry before reuse. I’m not sure if some of my hives had dysentary or Nosema, so should i scrub them out? Donna

  • Someone I met this weekend just calls them female bees, with the caveat that we all know that the queen is female, but different from all other females. He made the point that we wouldn’t call our heart merely a pump, so why do we label the females as “workers”, “undertakers”, “scouts”, etc.? The labels we give the females is based on a production-based society, that maybe doesn’t honor them as being like cells of a bigger whole.

    This is a great topic! It provides insight into how we define things, and how we can look at them at different ways on various occasions. Thanks!

  • I used to call them ‘bees’.

    Until someone wanted to know why there were three kinds in the hive. The ‘him type’ bee made sense. You remember the aforementioned speech of birds and bees? Thought so.

    Having two kinds of her-bees caused a pretty severe frown. Up until then, or shortly after, I was okay with Him-Bees and Her-Bees. Then the lass I was conversing exclaimed, rather loudly to my taste, inquisitively, “You have two kinds of Her-Bees??”

    Granted, that reads just as plain as footprints on fresh snow… However, *spoken* with a bit of a hard ‘B’… almost a ‘P’… she couldn’t have said that quiet enough. Not in the break room at work at the least. I moved on to ‘The Girls’.

    I still rather like it. Kinda cute. Kinda fits with the whole ‘sugar and spice’ thing nicely. However, Persons Un-named do not apparently care for it. Too, mentioning you have to get home to the girls sounds like daughters. Plural. Parallel conversations can develop. Rather odd ones.

    “Units” never fit well for me. “APUs” will always be Auxillary Power Units in my head, but as sterile as the moniker sounds to my ear it does have the benefit of not encouraging the imagination too much. I still can’t bring myself to really like it though.

    My current appellation is rather generic for some conversations, however, Denizens of the Hive, or DOTH, is working so far. We’ll see how long I go until it morphs into something embarrassing, but so far, so good.



    • Nick,

      I read this late last night and it kept me awake and smirking. Very funny. By the way, somebody used the word DOTH lately in a comment. Was it you? I didn’t ask for clarification, but kept thinking that eventually I would figure it out. (I didn’t.) Anyway, thanks for keeping me awake.

  • Rusty,
    I have to confess it was I. I dropped it in a note with a photo link and really had intended to explain that later. The ‘Send’ button replied that the message was on the way before I added that little tidbit. Not even my most cajoling mutterings had effect.
    Maybe in Winders 20.0 we’ll see the advent of an “UnSend” button??

    At least that’s the story I’m sticking to for now. 🙂


  • I refer to them as my minions (and ignore my better half when she rolls her [non-beekeeper] eyes)…

  • I can appreciate your hangup on the word ‘girls’. Way back in my youth my grandfather would say he had to go round up the ‘girls’. That meant that he had to gather the cows for the night and put them in the barn. Needless to say every time I hear the word ‘girls’ I had flashbacks to my grandfather’s comment and pictured myself as one of his cows.

    Some sixty years later, I MIGHT be over this; although I still twinge whenever I hear the term ‘the girls’ but now I just smile and carry on. Twelve years ago my husband and I bought a small ranch and we have our girl goats, girl hens, and girl bees. After all it’s the girls who produce the goods. The does give us milk, the hens give us eggs, and the bees give us honey. The boys, on the other hand, do the heavy lifting. We ride our geldings, the bucks/wethers keep our back pastures mowed, and the roosters scratch our garden (I won’t let the hens roam throughout the ranch because of the predators.)

    Girl power has a whole different meaning and I’m liking it, even thought it did take several decades to get there.

    • Pat,

      I’ve relented a bit over the years myself. I even used the word “girls” in yesterday’s post. I don’t know what that says about me.

  • My wife is the one that first and still calls my bees “your girls”. She only refers to the bee and our twin granddaughters as the girls. “You and your girls”. When I first got into beekeeping last spring, I ran across an old friend from the workplace. I knew he had kept bees for 40 or 50 years (until his old age and health decided he shouldn’t). I said, “Charlie, what advice would an old beekeeper give to a new beekeeper?” He looked and me and said, “they are all girls. Treat them with respect.” I think about that often. I find that when I respect them, we get along well.

  • Clifford

    I know this is old, but my dad always called them girls and said these:
    1) They’re mamas, and they’re only mean when they have babies to protect
    2) They’re girls, and you ain’t gonna figure ’em out no matter how long you been around ’em
    3) They’re girls, and they can take care of themselves.
    4) They’re girls, and if you mess with them too much they’ll leave and you’ll be left trying to figure out what went wrong.

    I can’t say I’ve ever seen where he was wrong.

  • This made me laugh – especially when I realized that all members of my colonies are referred to as their queen’s namesake. I currently have Joyces and Cecilias. These queens, and all others henceforth, are named after famous classical singers 🙂

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