honeycomb

The difference between honeycomb & honey cone is a surprise

Inside: We often hear or read the phrase “honey cone” instead of “honeycomb.” But it turns out there really is something called honey cone. Who knew?

Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t have a question about their “honey cone.” How should they store it or eat it or clean it? How can they sell it or save it or reuse it?

I always wondered where this spelling variation came from. I used to think it was a simple typo or an auto-fill glitch. But it happens so often, I hatched a brainy idea: I would Google it.

The real thing: genuine honey cone

So guess what? There really is a thing called a honey cone. Two in fact. First, there was an American R&B all-female vocal group called Honey Cone that was active 1969-1973. We remember them for their hit single, “Want Ads.”

The second instance is a food product called Hawaiian Honey Cone. It is a frozen dessert inside a J-shaped pastry with ice cream stuck in both ends.

All things cone: some photos

Okay, with that cleared up, I Googled cones. Cone-shaped things are all around, but I can find little to connect cones with honeycombs. The only possible nexus I can see is the surface texture of waffle cones or pine cones which, perhaps, could remind someone of honeycombs. Or not. I still can’t figure out why the error is so common unless it’s just a matter of hearing it incorrectly.

Does honeycomb make more sense?

Long before I ran into the phrase “honey cone” I used to wonder where the comb in honeycomb came from. It’s equally confusing because it doesn’t look anything like a comb either, right?

I’ve never been able to find a reasonable explanation of the word’s origin. Some say the word comb derives from Old English camb or German kamm, meaning a toothed object, but I can hardly see how a honeycomb is toothed.

The derivation that makes a bit more sense comes from catacomb—an “underground cemetery, especially one consisting of tunnels and rooms with recesses dug out for coffins and tombs.” Morbid, perhaps, but I can visualize a honeycomb as a storage room with recesses prepared for honey.

If any of you have a clue of why any of this is so, I would love to hear it.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Well it's a darn good life
And it's kinda funny
How the Lord made the bee
And the bee made the honey
And the honeybee lookin' for a home
And they called it honeycomb ...

Honeycomb
Jimmie F. Rodgers
Album: Cruisin’ 1957

Bees storing honey in a honeycomb.
Bees store honey in a honeycomb.

About Me

I backed my love of bee science with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Crops and a master’s in Environmental Studies. I write extensively about bees, including a current column in American Bee Journal and past columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. I’ve endured multiple courses in melittology and made extensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist and other organizations. My master beekeeper certificate issued from U Montana. I’m also an English nerd. More here.


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22 Comments

  • No need to post this as a comment. Dessert has two S’s because they are sweet!

    “frozen desert inside a J-shaped pastry”

  • Rusty, One small correction. The ladybug is Tennessee’s state insect. The honeybee is Tennessee’s agricultural insect.

  • From—-
    Macmillan Dictionary Blog › honey…

    The word honeycomb comes from the Old English word ‘hunigcamb’. It is a combination of two root words: ‘honey’, from the Old English word ‘hunig’, and ‘comb’, from the Old English word ‘camb’ meaning ‘thin strip of stiff material’.

  • It seems to be a linguistic phenomenon called an eggcorn. It’s when a word is commonly replaced by a different form that not only sounds similar, but seems to carry the sense as well. So acorn – which doesn’t really have an obvious meaning is replaced by “eggcorn” – which carries meanings of reproduction and seeds. Honey cone is a nice example, since “comb” is usually something for untangling hair, but a cone is something that contain something – and in the case of ice cream – it contains a treat! Here’s a link with a bit more information if you want to go down that rabbit hole: https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2633

  • Well it’s a darn good life
    And it’s kinda funny
    How the Lord made the bee
    And the bee made the honey
    And the honeybee lookin’ for a home
    And they called it honeycomb … such a cute little diddly … now I will be singing this song all day long! I would go with the catacomb, it fits! Great post to go with my coffee!

  • Oooh, this is a good post. Interesting possible connection to catacomb. But check this out:

    WAFFLE:
    https://www.etymonline.com/word/waffle

    from Proto-Germanic *wabila- “web, honeycomb”
    (see weave (v.)). Sense of “honeycomb” is preserved in some combinations referring to a weave of cloth.

    Which leads us to WEAVE:
    https://www.etymonline.com/word/weave

    Old English wefan “to weave, form by interlacing yarn,” figuratively “devise, contrive, arrange”
    Extended sense of “combine into a whole”

    Something to think about.

  • In grammar school, when grammar was still taught, we learned the difference in spelling thusly:

    Dessert: you would always want more than one! (Therefore 2 ‘s’s).

    Desert: you would not want to be on more than one. (Therefore 1 ‘s’)

    • Skip,

      Thanks. I like mnemonic devices. My favorite, from second grade, is “A rat in the house might eat the ice cream.” In this case, though, I actually know how to spell both desert and dessert, but I’m a lousy typist.

  • Rusty,

    Honeycomb – Think back in time when the word starting being used… If you stand back and look at a colony in the wild or the combs in a skep. The combs hang down and when looking directly at edges look like teeth on a comb or the comb on a roosters head.

    Ref: The Oxford English Dictionary (s.v. “honeycomb”) suggests that the arrangement of plates of wax (with honey) “hanging parallel to each other from the roof of the hive suggests a comb with its teeth”. :^)

  • Rusty,

    Now that you have opened the door to the comb and the cone, how about the use of queen excluder and queen extruder? That is a mystery to me as well! Thanks! Donna

    P.S. Always thought the “Honeycomb” song was cute.

  • Check this out:
    See: “Chambers’s (sic) Twentieth Century Dictionary – 1911
    Coomb, Comb, koom, n. … [A.S. cumb, a hollow]

  • I’m guessing that the same people that write “honey cone” will also write “should of” and they really should’ve read more in their lives … 😉

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