Where Did the Saying “The Bee’s Knees” Come From?


Have you ever wondered why something exceptionally good is called “the bee’s knees”? This quirky phrase, which means something is excellent or of high quality, buzzed into popularity in the United States during the Roaring Twenties.

The origin of “the bee’s knees” is a bit hazy, but it’s believed to be part of the era’s fondness for nonsensical phrases. But there’s more to this phrase than just a random selection of words.

Why did a reference to a tiny part of a bee’s anatomy come to signify excellence? How did this phrase survive the test of time when others faded into obscurity?

As we dive into the fascinating world of etymology, let’s explore the hive of history and uncover the sweet nectar of the story behind “the bee’s knees”!

The Origins of “The Bee’s Knees”

The phrase “the bee’s knees” didn’t always mean something great. In fact, in the early 18th century, it started as a playful, nonsensical phrase.

Back then, people liked to make up funny sayings where animal parts were paired with unrelated things, like “the cat’s pajamas” or “the eel’s ankle.”

The phrase was akin to saying ‘unicorn horns’—something splendid…if it existed! These phrases didn’t really mean anything; they were just fun to say.

The Roaring Twenties: The Phrase Takes Off

Fast forward to the 1920s, also known as the Roaring Twenties. This was a time of big parties, jazz music, and lots of new slang.

People were all about having fun and being a bit rebellious, especially the young women called flappers.

It was during this time that “the bee’s knees” started to mean something excellent or of high quality.

But why?

Well, no one knows for sure, but it seems like it was just part of the trend of using silly, catchy phrases.

The Bee’s Knees in Pop Culture

Ready to strut back to the roaring twenties? Well, hold onto your cloche hats because we’re about to take a whirlwind tour through the era where “the bee’s knees” buzzed its way into the hearts of flappers and dapper gents alike.

Flapper Fervor

Those spunky, spirited gals known as flappers really knew how to stir up the dance floor, shaking societal norms and their fringe-clad dresses with equal zest.

They embraced “the bee’s knees” as their catchphrase for anything that epitomized the height of excellence.

Whether shimmying through a Charleston or sipping illicit sips at a speakeasy, flappers were the embodiment of what it meant to be “the bee’s knees.”

Bee Jackson and Broadway Influence

Enter Bee Jackson, the bee who had her own wings pinned back by fame. As the world champion Charleston dancer, she fluttered onto Broadway with moves that screamed, “I’m the bee’s knees, and don’t you forget it!”

Her influence on pop culture was like a dollop of honey on the era’s proverbial biscuit, making the phrase synonymous with top-notch talent and irresistible showbiz sparkle.

The theaters buzzed with anticipation anytime Bee Jackson was slated to grace the stage. Broadway couldn’t have been the bee’s knees without its buzzing hive of starlets like her.

Wrapping it Up

This phrase was made by people who loved to have fun and try new things, both in the 1700s and the 1920s.

Today, we still use “the bee’s knees” to talk about something really great. It’s a fun way to remember the lively and happy spirit of the 1920s.

So, every time we use it, we’re keeping a bit of that happy 1920s spirit alive!