Tag Archives: bees



This week’s word is bombilate, because it’s fun to say and thankfully has nothing (well, nearly nothing) to do with explosives.

Honey bee on garlic chives flower

Bombilate (pronunciation here) is a rare verb meaning to buzz or hum and is, naturally enough, associated with bees like the honeybee I snapped in my garden today enjoying the nectar from the garlic chives. I was hoping for a bumblebee as I love the idea of a bumblebee bombilating (there’s poetry in that) but sadly they weren’t bumbling around today. A local friend makes excellent honey in his hives and I always wonder if the bees in my garden are his, but then, does any beekeeper really “own” their bees? I don’t think so.

Bombilate entered English in the early 1600s and is another one of those words the Romans and Greeks gave us. Greek has bombos which means booming or humming. Latin has bombus with the same meaning. Your guess is as good as mine on who got there first with that one (I’m betting on the Greeks), but it’s pretty obvious that they’re related.

From bombus we get bomba in Italian, then bombe in French and bomb in English by the late 1600s. Oh wait, did I say bombilate had nothing to do with explosives? Yeah, that wasn’t entirely true, they have the same root.

Bomb – a disarmed sea mine from the Irish National Maritime Museum

Now go back to Latin and bombus (humming, remember?). As well as migrating through languages to give us the word bomb, it also swerved off to medieval Latin as bombilare meaning “to buzz” and hence into English with the same meaning by the early 1600s.

Did medieval, or Roman, bombs buzz? Did they think bees sounds like weapons? Having been the victim of a nasty wasp attack this summer (I accidentally damaged their nest, mea culpa), I can definitely see the whole wasp=weapon=humming connection.

Until next time, let the humming insects bombilate in peace,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. I couldn’t resist including one non-bombilating creature – this butterfly photo-bombed my bee photography earlier.

p.p.s. I should also mention that I’m pleased and delighted to announce that I’ve been longlisted in the 2018 Ireland Blog Awards. I’m also helping to judge the longlist (not in my own category of course) which is proving to be enlightening and great fun.

Photo-bombing butterfly on the regular chives

Medieval Bees lived in Skeps


At the beginning of June I had a wonderful day out at Bloom (the Dublin version of the Chelsea Flower Show) and was delighted to find an unexpected local connection amongst the show gardens. Bremore Castle, a 15th century fortified house, has been undergoing renovation since 1994 by Fingal County Council and I pass it regularly. As the renovation process draws to a close the council joined with students from Blanchardstown Institute of Technology to create a medieval garden showcasing the skills they’ve learned during the work – stone carving, willow weaving, stone wall construction, etc.

Detail from Bremore Castle show garden

Detail from Bremore Castle show garden

It was a beautiful garden and particularly fascinating to me as I’m working on a novel set in that time period which has such a garden as a key setting #EasyResearch. One element which I loved was the small woven beehive, or skep, which was included as a reference to local Saint Mologa whose bee-keeping was legendary and contributes skeps to many emblems in these parts (even the logo of my Scout group which is apt as one of our former leaders is a bee-keeper).

Busy Bee

Busy Bee

The bees have been busy in my own garden with recent warm weather, especially around the patch of foxgloves. One packet of foxglove seeds 12 years ago is still giving us colour every year. They move around the garden, presumably with the wind, but I don’t mind where they turn up as they are so elegant.

Foxgloves / digitalis

Foxgloves / digitalis

The word skep was new to me however, so I had to investigate.

Merriam Webster tells me it’s a domed hive made of twisted straw. Beespoke (great name!) gave me loads of background info including how to make your own skep. The straw skep is now used for transporting summer swarms but formerly were used year round.

A skeppa was an Icelandic Norse word for a half-bushel grain measure – typically a rounded basket (turn it upside down and you have a skep). This travelled to sceppe, the Old English word for a basket, and finally to skep.  The first skeps were brought by Saxons to Britain about 400 AD, and would have come to Ireland shortly thereafter. First official mention of them in Ireland was when St. Gobhnait in Cork drove off cattle thieves by throwing bee skeps at them c. 500 AD. Irish saints were radical.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,


p.s. Look who I found in the plant pavillion at Bloom. Definitely a friend of the blog.