This is a rant about plurals and capital letters and how they apply to bees. Fascinating! But if you don’t care to read about English, please go no further.
More than one bee?
If you are writing about a single bee, the word “bee” works just fine. But if you happen to be writing about more than one bee, you need to stick an “s” onto the end of the word. This is how we make most plurals in English: simply add an “s.” Turns out that whether you are referring to two or two million, they are still just bees. Bees. Not bee’s. Not Bee’s. And no, not BEE’S.
I know, I know. This is my hangup, not yours. I get that, but I read comments, emails, and posts about BEE’S until I think I will go mad. What is it about bees that we have to make them so complicated?
“My bee’s swarmed.” “My Bee’s have mites.” “My BEE’S stored lots of honey.” Really? Otherwise literate, intelligent people are writing this stuff, people who would never write “Cow’s give milk” or “Dog’s bark or “My CAT’S are crazy.” What is it with bee’s…er, bees that we can’t write it right?
Now, you may have read the comments on this site and think these spellings rarely occur. But that’s because they drive me so incredibly insane that I correct them. Sometimes I try to leave them alone, but I can’t. It’s nerve jarring, like nails on a chalkboard. I can’t answer the question until I’ve translated it into English.
Please note that I’m not even worried about the possessive, bee’s, and the plural possessive, bees’. I would be elated if beekeepers understood the simple plural and skipped the gratuitous capitalization.
About those nuc(leus) hives
I also want to mention nucs. Not Nuc’s. Not NUCS. When people capitalize all the letters in NUC I always think they don’t know what it means. It’s not an acronym or initialism but a shortened form of a longer word. Think “Jo” for Josephine or “piano” for pianoforte.
Recently, I’ve noticed that some publications are writing “nuc(leus) colony” when they are using the term in a sentence, and I’m thinking of switching to this practice. At least it reminds people of what it means.
Nothing to do with writing, but I know a guy who makes nuc rhyme with duck. The first time he mentioned his nucks, I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I thought he had five hives and three ducks. A kind of non sequitur. Conversely, he couldn’t understand how I’d been a beekeeper for so long and never heard of a nuck…and he said as much. Communicating, we were not.
The queen is just another insect
As I wrote in English for beekeepers, the word “queen” describes a relationship like mother, father, sister, and brother, or a job description like lawyer, doctor, painter, and worker. I tolerate the incessant capitalization of “queen” a bit more from my English readers because they are used to seeing the word capitalized in the form of a title such as Queen Elizabeth. Still, even there, being a queen bee is a lower case position. Check out Bee Craft, the British beekeeping magazine: they wouldn’t think of capitalizing the word “queen” when referring to a “bug.”
The seasons upon us
And since I’m hot on gratuitous capitalization, I must mention the seasons. Beekeepers talk about seasons more than most people. But the fact remains that spring, summer, winter, and fall (or autumn) are not capitalized. Beekeepers get this wrong constantly and for some, I can understand why. There was a popular bee magazine, which shall remain nameless, that had an editorial policy of capitalizing the seasons.
The capitalized seasons leapt from the page of this magazine. They shouted and jumped. They reached out and grabbed me. The words were so totally distracting that I tended to forget what I was reading. Instead, I marveled over the fact that a word that should never be capitalized was inexplicably in print.
About ten years ago, when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I canceled my subscription, but not before I went to the library and consulted every resource I could find. I scoured style guides, dictionaries, encyclopedias, usage manuals, writers’ guidelines, textbooks, and grammar checkers. Simply put, I could not find one single resource supporting the capitalization of the seasons (unless one occurs in a proper name). Once again, I point you to Bee Craft—an example of an award-winning magazine where you will never see a capitalized season.
Am I being nit-picky?
Of course I am. But as I’ve said so many times before, beekeeping is a complex subject that is difficult to learn and often hard to understand. Anything that gets in the way of comprehension should be corrected so we can minimize confusion and maximize learning. Being distracted by non-standard English might be a small thing, but thrown together with everything else, it makes learning that much harder.
Not only that, but when a source is not particular about details, I wonder about its content. A rather wealthy gentleman I once knew was purchasing a house. He found one he really liked, but he was excessively worried that the knobs on the kitchen drawers didn’t match. A few were different.
At first I thought this was odd, after all he could take his millions and buy matching knobs. But he explained that when a small thing is so obviously wrong, you have to wonder about the important things you can’t see. In a house, for example, you have to wonder about the quality of the foundation, the electrical system, and the plumbing. If the stuff you can see is not well done, most likely the stuff you can’t see is even worse.
Likewise, if written material doesn’t follow simple and universal conventions that are designed to enhance meaning, you have to wonder if the material in the article holds value or not.
Honey Bee Suite