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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Bee's Knees

A phrase sometimes used to refer to excellence is “the bee’s knees.”  My daughter and I had a chat about the origin of the phrase; it led to the oft-utilized solution of “googling it.”
I found more than I bargained for.... If we travel to 1906, the phrase “bee’s knees” showed up on a cargo ship’s manifest.  It appears in a listing of seven cases of bee’s knees.  It was used to connote a make-believe product.  When apprentices were sent to fetch supplies, they might be asked to bring a carton of bee’s knees; it was a ritual of mild hazing.  By the 1920’s, there were a string of nonsense descriptions that were popularized on the radio.  These included “the cat’s whiskers” or “the cat’s pyjamas,” the ee’s ankles,” “the elephant’s ankles,” and“the snake’s hips.” One explanation allows that the bee’s knees was simply meaningless.
During the 20’s, there was a renowned flapper named Bee Jackson.  She popularized the Charleston, a famous loose-kneed dance. One hypothesis that is bandied about is that it was her dancing that promoted the phrase. Other stories hold that the bee’s knees includes “b’s” and “e’s,” letters that stand for be-alls and end-alls...as in alpha and omega, beginning and end, the best.
Whatever the origin, it has remained an integral part of our language for over 100 years.  Now that's "the bee's knees."

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