A Bee in My Bonnet
Published: September 4, 2013 (Issue # 1776)
Photo: For SPT
Ah, nature … the last halcyon — er, cold and stormy — days of summer, when nature is still at its peak — er, starting to fade — and you can enjoy a carefree afternoon tramping across a field with your dog.
Until you stumble on a hive of bees, that is, and they get really angry about their home invasion and attack you and your dog. Your face blows up like a balloon, and your dog won’t leave the house because it’s finally dawned on her that it’s a jungle out there.
A batch of beestings isn’t fun, but it does have a linguistic silver lining. It’s been an excellent opportunity to brush up my sting vocabulary.
There are three main nasties that sting out here in the Moscow boondocks: îñà (wasp), øåðøåíü (hornet) and ï÷åëà (bee). What they do is æàëèòü (to sting), and what they sting with is æàëî (stinger). But for some reason, their sting is called óêóñ (a bite). Åñëè âàñ óæàëèëà ï÷åëà èëè îñà, íóæíî òùàòåëüíî ïðîìûòü ìåñòî óêóñà è àêêóðàòíî âûòàùèòü æàëî (If you are stung by a bee or wasp, you need to thoroughly wash the bite and carefully pull out the stinger).
This, in my experience, is very hard to do when you are stung in the face and jumping around like a lunatic. Later you will be urged to use various folk remedies, like ïàñòà èç ïèùåâîé ñîäû è âîäû (a paste of baking soda and water) or çóáíàÿ ïàñòà (toothpaste) to stop the pain.
It’s nice to know that Russian speakers and English speakers share many of the same images and expressions for these stinging creatures. You might point out that a shapely neighbor has îñèíàÿ òàëèÿ (wasp waist). The other neighbor — the mean one — can simply be called îñà (a wasp).
The proverbial hornet’s nest in Russian is îñèíîå ãíåçäî (wasp’s nest), although the metaphor is the same. Íå íàäî òðåâîæèòü îñèíîå ãíåçäî! (Don’t disturb a hornet’s nest!)
Ï÷åëà, even though it packs a nasty sting, is really not in the same metaphorical category as îñà and øåðøåíü. In the Russian world view, ï÷åëà is a wonderful creature — in fact, called Áîæüÿ óãîäíèöà (Saint, beloved by God) because it produces the wax used for church candles. On the earthy plane, they pollinate crops and produce honey, a staple in the Russian diet.
Ï÷åëà, or the diminutive ï÷¸ëêà, is what you call a hard-working person. This is less snarky than the English busy bee. Â ìî¸ îòñóòñòâèå ï÷¸ëêè ïîêðàñèëè âåñü äîì (While I was gone, the worker bees painted the whole house).
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