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Mind your beeswax

Q From Louise: Is it true that mind your beeswax comes from the use of wax on one’s face to fill in small pox scars? If one got too close to the fire these would melt and run; therefore, mind your beeswax.

A The questions people ask ... You haven’t been the unwitting recipient of one of those daft e-mails going the rounds, have you?

Anywise, this one was educational, speaking personally, since I had no idea that there was a slang expression mind your own beeswax until you asked, though I’ve since discovered it is known pretty much throughout the English-speaking world, though perhaps more so in the USA. It is most commonly a children’s expression, though also carried over into the adult world.

The supposed explanation you quote is the product of a warped imagination. The phrase mind your own beeswax has the same sense as mind your own business — it’s just a childish attempt at creating a humorous alternative. It belongs to a group of such facetious inventions that includes the long obsolete Australian mind your own fish and the slightly more witty but also historical New Zealand version mind your own pigeon (pigeon here being derived from pidgin, business, as in Pidgin English).

After this piece went out in the newsletter, David Coyne e-mailed from Belgium: “When I was growing up in Kenya in the Fifties we had a little rhyme which we would quote whenever someone showed too much curiosity in what we were doing! It seems that it combines nicely your Australian saying and what I had always thought was a British one:

Mind your own beeswax
Eat your own fish
And don’t poke your nose
Into my little dish!

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 14 Dec. 2002

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 14 December 2002.