Throughout my everyday conversations I’ve began to notice the weird phrases and sayings that magically work their way into my jibber jabber. You see?! It just happened again!
I’ve started keeping a running list of things that make me stop and think, WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?? And so begins WTF?! Wednesdays.
Phrase: “The bee’s knees”
Meaning: The highest quality, the very best. i.e. super duper
Origin: Bees carry pollen back to the hive in sacs on their legs. It is tempting to explain this phrase as alluding to the concentrated goodness to be found around a bee’s knee, but there’s no evidence to support this explanation. It is also sometimes said to be a corruption of ‘business’, but there’s no evidence to support that either.
There’s no profound reason to relate bees and knees other than the jaunty-sounding rhyme. In the 1920s it was fashionable to use nonsense terms to denote excellence – ‘the snake’s hips’, ‘the kipper’s knickers’, ‘the cat’s pyjamas/whiskers’, ‘the monkey’s eyebrows’ and so on. Of these, the bee’s knees and the cat’s whiskers are the only ones to have stood the test of time.
One tenuous connection between the bee’s knees and an actual bee relates to Bee Jackson. Ms. Jackson was a dancer in 1920s New York and popularised the Charleston, being credited by some as introducing the dance to Broadway in 1924. She went on to become the World Champion Charleston dancer and was quite celebrated at the time. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the expression became popular in reference to her and her very active knees, but 1924 post dates the origin of the phrase. I found this answer at http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/the-bees-knees.html, so it must be true.
And now we know. But I’m still going to imagine bee’s with tiny little knee caps because I like that better.
If there are any phrases, words or things that make you wonder “what does that even mean?!” post a comment and check back weekly for more WTF?! mysteries solved.