14

The context is:

Just so you know, I got a bee up my ass about you two.

  • @Mari-Lou: Here's another one to get your teeth into (or wrap your tongue around, if that's your thing! :) before the "closevote-happy" brigade knock it off the radar for being too "superficially obvious". – FumbleFingers Sep 21 '14 at 17:34
  • ... sounds painful. – BrainSlugs83 Sep 22 '14 at 4:26
  • It's simply a mess of two existing idioms, used badly. – Fattie Sep 22 '14 at 7:16
  • user130268, there's actually a specific common problem in spoken English, these days: people, very commonly, really confuse idioms. it goes beyond thinking tenterhooks is tenderhooks: people frequently run together, basically a confused jumble-O-idiom. (Funnily enough there's an excellent questioner on here, Yoichi, who is a top student of English from Japan. He ver often asks exactly these questions: where the answer is in fact "no, that's totally wrong, the writer was an idiot in this case"!) – Fattie Sep 22 '14 at 7:19
17

It's a quaint/inventive conflation of...

have a bug up one's ass
be very irascible and touchy
(Source: dictionary.reference.com)
and
have a bee in one's bonnet
be preoccupied or obsessed with something
(Source: oxforddictionaries.com)

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  • 2
    As opposed to being a few bats short of a belfry. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 21 '14 at 16:41
  • @Edwin: Exactly! I recently declined to post an "answer" to a similar "mangled idiom" question because in that case the particular variation was something you wouldn't expect from a native speaker. Your example, like OP's here, is typical of the kind of variations we actually do produce all the time (the emphasis being on wit, not lack of familiarity with the specific idiomatic standard). – FumbleFingers Sep 21 '14 at 17:05
  • +1 – Never heard of having a bug up one’s ass! I only know of having a stick up there, which I briefly thought of, but decided would not really provide a suitable point of departure for this usage here. Yours fits better than just pain in the ass (right preposition). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 21 '14 at 17:28
  • I feel it's not so much generous, but just incorrect, to say it was a deliberate conflation! As I mention above there is, in Our Era, a specific, common, present, phenomenon where one sees "jumble-O-idiom". I've also just read your comment: I'm surprised you feel the speaker/writer was actually being deliberately clever. – Fattie Sep 22 '14 at 7:21
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    @Joe: Google Books claims 88 written instances of "bee up his ass". I'm happy to accept that at least some of those are inventive wordplay rather than accidental "copying errors". It's the kind of thing I'd do myself if I were American (except that because I'm a Brit, the bug version isn't a natural part of my idiomatic stock in trade). – FumbleFingers Sep 22 '14 at 13:08
11

This isn’t exactly an established idiom, but it is easily comprehensible to a native speaker.

There is an established idiom, to have a bee in your bonnet (‘bonnet’ being an old-fashioned type of headwear), which means “be preoccupied or obsessed with something” (ODO definition). Imagine having a bee buzzing around inside your hat all the time—that would make it quite hard for you to think about anything else, and you’d be(e) obsessed with it.

Then there is another established idiom, a pain in the ass (or back side, or posterior, or indeed any other term for that part of your body—can also be neck, if you’re too sensitive to refer to bums), which just means something that is really annoying. The notion presumably comes from haemorrhoids or cricks in the neck, which are constantly vexing and annoying those who suffer from it.

If you blend those two idioms, you might end up with a bee in/up your ass, which would be something extremely irritating that you can’t help but focus on exactly because it’s so irritating.

Note that Urban Dictionary even has as an existing slang term the word assbee, which would be a pithier version of bee in/up [someone’s] ass:

Jesus, this project is really turning out to be a major assbee.

– where major assbee is more or less exactly equivalent to major pain in the ass.

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  • For those who aren't familiar with Urban Dictionary, it's not a very reliable source when it comes to understanding the prevalence of phrases. – Dancrumb Sep 21 '14 at 15:38
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    But if you're looking for the meaning of a rude/vulgar/offensive phrase that's relatively new, it's still often the closest thing to a canonical source you're likely to find. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Sep 21 '14 at 15:57
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    @Dancrumb Neither the quote in the question nor assbee is prevalent at all—they are both, in fact, very rare. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist and can’t be explained. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 21 '14 at 17:30
  • 'Established idiom' is of course tautological, but I'd have used it here too. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 21 '14 at 18:26
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    Although terminology is not standardised, I go with Moon's: 'Fixed expression is a very general but convenient term, adopted from Alexander (1978/9), Carter (1987) and others, and used to cover several kinds of ... multi-word lexical item.... These include frozen collocations, grammatically ill-formed collocations, proverbs, routine formulae, sayings [and] similes. 'Fixed expression' also subsumes 'idioms'. [bolding altered] Hereby, 'idiom' (this sense) requires 'common parlance'. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 22 '14 at 6:37

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