In my corner of the world, the two exressions given in the accepted answer to this question have become conflated. Now, to "have a bee up one's butt" is to have a sudden and obsessive need to do something one does not normally do.

Example uses:

Alice: So what made you want to plant a garden in your front yard?

Bob: I don't know. I guess I just got a bee up my butt.


Dave: Where has Eve been all week?

Char: Ah, you know how it is. She and her husband got bees up their butts and flew off for a tropical vacation.

While the "butt" variant is not blatantly obscene, it is perhaps not suitable for all social situations. I suppose the original version with "bonnet" is better, but seems a bit antiquated- when did you last see anyone wearing a bonnet?

Is there an expression or idiom that would:

  • Be acceptable in polite company
  • Convey a similar whimsy
  • Fit in with modern fashion and norms
  • 3
    As an aside, if you need a smile today, take a moment to imagine the situations that led up to the origin of these expressions.
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 15:13
  • @cobaltduck- Would "They got an itch in their underwear" suffice, or does it need to be specifically insect-related? Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 15:23
  • @MarkHubbard: Insects not required, but I'm not sure "underwear" is any less problematic than "butt" within "polite society." Imagine you needed to use the expression with your boss' boss' boss, for example.
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 15:28
  • 1
    Your question does say, "amongst sensitive parts of the anatomy." Are we to move away from that? Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 15:37
  • 4
    "when did you last see anyone wearing a bonnet?" A lot more recently than seeing a bee inside someone's rectum. Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 6:27

13 Answers 13


If you want to convey a sense of a sudden desire to take drastic action in a graphic way without any impropriety you might say, "He got a burr under his saddle." If a horse you are riding accidently gets a burr under the saddle he will start bucking, twitching, and snorting for no apparent reason. This was a common expression in western movies in the USA. I've never been on a horse, myself. If you want to be vulgar just change it to "He got a burr up his ass."

  • Just to pick nits: "arse" is a vulgar term loosely synonymous with "butt". "Ass" is just a synonym for "donkey". Which one may also saddle and/or ride, if so inclined. But the alliteration of burr/bug with butt makes the latter slightly more enjoyable.
    – frIT
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 9:01
  • This answer is, I'm afraid, essentially "wrong". The incredibly obvious and extremely-well-known-today perfect simile-phrases for "bee up my butt" (which is not even a phrase) are presented below ... getting a wild hair, or have a bee in one's bonnet, or on a whim .. et cetera (see below).
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 18:42

To up and take off for an exotic vacation is an example of "get(ting) a wild hair".

The Online Slang Dictionary explains the likely origin and definition of this expression:

get a wild hair

noun - The correct spelling is "wild hair." A wild hair is a phenomenon found around horses. A hair from the horse's tail may fall into the water trough. Sometimes fungus or mold on the hair will make the hair wriggle through the water as if it were alive. Last edited on May 08 2015. Submitted by Anonymous on May 08 2015.

verb - to get a wild impulse. I couldn't sleep, I got a wild hair.


Trying to keep with the theme of insects, I would recommend the construction bitten by the ______ bug

Develop a passionate interest in a specified activity:

Joe was bitten by the showbiz bug at the age of four

And specifically to your second example:

bit by the travel bug


Well, I dont know about the ‘obsessive need’ part, but when you're talking about a ‘sudden or capricious idea; a fancy’, a great word to use is whim.

Alice: So what made you want to plant a garden in your front yard?

Bob: Whim.


Dave: Where has Eve been all week?

Char: On a whim, she and her husband flew off for a tropical vacation.

  • Different meaning. "Whim" has no sense of sudden need or urgency.
    – cp.engr
    Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 14:54

To be antsy has a similar definition, retains the insect connection, and is in no way vulgar.

antsy [ant-see] adjective, antsier,antsiest.


  1. unable to sit or stand still; fidgety: The children were bored and antsy.

  2. apprehensive, uneasy, or nervous: I'm a little antsy since hearing those storm warnings.


Expressions that indicate being compelled to move or to action:

Somebody lit a fire under him.

They have itchy feet

Someone dropped a nickel in you.

  • Links or references, please?
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 16:01

"Ants in your pants" also refers to state-forming hymenoptera in the general below-belt anatomical region.

  • Can you provide a reference/research that can support your answer?
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 25, 2015 at 14:20

to have a crying need seems to fit

Ah, you know how it is. She and her husband got a crying need for a tropical vacation.


I'd suggest, the mood suddenly took [him/them]

mood: a receptive state of mind predisposing to action M-W


Although not an idiom, the term fad seems to convey similar meaning:

  • an intense but short-lived fashion; craze
  • a personal idiosyncrasy or whim

Alternatively consider on the brain:

to not be able to stop thinking or talking about one particular thing

You could say:

Ah, you know how it is. She and her husband got a holiday on their brains and flew off for a tropical vacation.


Synonym of "having a crying need" mentionned by @Centaurus: To have a compelling desire.

Example: With shock, he felt a compelling desire to walk over, take her hand, and lead her back outside to see for himself if her skin was as soft and silky as it looked.


To finally succumb to one's inner neurosis.


Usually, to "have a bee up one's butt" implies a distracting sense of self-motivation.

So, you could reference some alternatives that are light-hearted and lean into the distraction aspect:

  • Chasing a squirrel - made popular after the movie "Up"
  • Getting a wind in one's sail
  • Chasing shiny objects
  • Falling down a rabbit hole

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.