Word Geek – the bee’s knees
The phrase ‘the bee’s knees’ is one used to describe something excellent and of the highest quality.
“Have you seen Sandra’s new hat?”
“Oh yes, it’s the bee’s knees!”
The phrase is said to have originally meant ‘something small and meaningless’ in the 18th century, quite the opposite of its meaning today.
Despite its British origins, the phrase as we know it today was popularised in America, during the 1920s, along with phrases such as ‘the snake’s hips’, ‘the monkey’s eyebrows’ and ‘the cat’s pyjamas’ which all disappeared from popular use apart from the latter.
One of the earliest printed references appeared in The Ohio newspaper The Newark Advocate, in April 1922, including the phrase ‘the bee’s knees’ as one of the newly coined phrases used by flappers at the time. It seems the dancers had their own language developing and this phrase was part of the ‘flapper dictionary’ at the time.
Here at The Language Factory, we’d never be so bold as to refer to ourselves as the bee’s knees! However, we do regard our translations and customer service as being of the highest quality, so if our clients say it about us, we’ll accept it as a compliment.