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The Bee’s Knees
Posted: 23 August 2008 06:41 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Any chance that this phrase derives from “the business”?

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Posted: 23 August 2008 06:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s part of a set of rhyming or quasi-rhyming slang phrases popular back then, like “the cat’s pajamas.” No deeper meaning.

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Posted: 09 September 2008 04:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I find it intuitively unlikely that “the bee’s knees” belongs to the same family as “the cat’s pyjamas”, or “the dog’s bollocks” (which is the current phrase of choice)

“The bee’s knees “, I would hazard a guess, began life as a description of total precision and exactitude. After all, you couldn’t visualise anything smaller than a bee’s knee, could you ?

How long ago, God knows. The phrase may have taken a few turnings since then , of course.

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Posted: 09 September 2008 04:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Have a care, Murrmac. Guessing out loud about etymology is a crime involving moral turpitude at this site, and can get you severely stomped

I mean, if you had second thoughts about transubstantiation in 15th century Spain, you’d think twice before saying so on the street corner, wouldn’t you now?

;-)

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Posted: 09 September 2008 08:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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murrmac - 09 September 2008 04:09 PM

I find it intuitively unlikely that “the bee’s knees” belongs to the same family as “the cat’s pyjamas”, or “the dog’s bollocks” (which is the current phrase of choice)

“The bee’s knees “, I would hazard a guess, began life as a description of total precision and exactitude. After all, you couldn’t visualise anything smaller than a bee’s knee, could you ?

How long ago, God knows. The phrase may have taken a few turnings since then , of course.

It was part of that group of phrases which meant “very good, the best, etc.” in the early 1920’s(flapper slang).

But, you’re correct that it started out life as a description of anything that was incredibly small.  Zane Gray used it in a 1909 story, although his character was just making up rediculous combinations to taunt an old farmer--"ham trees” “bee’s knees.” It was also used in in newspaper articles in 1910/1912/1914 to mean anything from very tiny items of food to an example of small exotic foodstuffs that only the rich ate.

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Posted: 10 September 2008 03:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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"The exact origin of “bee’s knees” remains a topic of debate, but there is wide-spread agreement that the phrase first appeared in North America during the 1920s. Some interesting theories are listed below.

1. Bees carry pollen back to the hive in sacs on their legs. The allusion is to the concentrated goodness to be found around the bee’s knee. (extract from the Phrase Finder).
2. The expression was coined in the 1920s by an American cartoonist named Tad Dorgan, who also graced the language with such corny superlatives as “the cat’s pajamas” and less durable ones such as the “the flea’s eyebrows” and - a real clunker - “the canary’s tusks.” Dorgan also came up with: “Yes, we have no bananas.” I’ve long been puzzled why, to this day, the bee’s knees expression has maintained a certain currency in Britain, something it has not had for decades in the United States. The thought occurs that perhaps, more than half a century on, it’s a still lingering cultural artifact from the American occupation of the south of England in the lead-up to D-Day. (extract from the Guardian’s Notes and Queries site, article by Dave Todd)
3. It’s one of a set of nonsense catchphrases that originated in North America in the 1920s, the period of the flappers, nearly all of which compared some thing of excellent quality to a part of an animal. (extract from Michael Quinon’s World Wide Words).
4. I think the idea is that on a bee, knees are strictly a luxury. The phrase originated in 1920s U.S. slang, which had a whole slue of such phrases: “the eel’s ankle”, “the flea’s eyebrows”, “the clam’s garter”, “the snake’s hips”, “the elephant’s instep”, “the kipper’s knickers”, “the cat’s pyjamas”, “the canary’s tusks”, “the sardine’s whiskers”. The fact that “the bee’s knees” rhymes may have assisted its survival. (extract from the aue archives, article by Mark Israel)original article
5. The bee’s knees is actually a development from something that was originally stated as “The be all and the end all of everything.” this being rather long, was shortened to “the B’s and E’s” which eventually became “the bee’s knees” (extract from the Guardian’s Notes and Queries site, article by “Ogins")
6. My _Dictionary of American Slang_ says “bee’s knees” was a fad started c1924. Like some Chinese menus, pick one from column A and one from column B… (extract from the aue archives, article by Robert Keller)original article
7. ...[the] _bee’s knees_ may be a humorous pronunciation of _business_. I have seen this offered as a genuine derivation and it seems as plausible as the current favourite for _OK_. (from the aue archives, article by S. Z. Hanley) original article.”

From:  http://www.yaelf.com/questions.shtml

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Posted: 10 September 2008 04:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The expression was coined in the 1920s by an American cartoonist named Tad Dorgan, who also graced the language with such corny superlatives as “the cat’s pajamas” and less durable ones such as the “the flea’s eyebrows” and - a real clunker - “the canary’s tusks.”

I rest my case.  The other “explanations” are the typical desperate flailings of people who cannot bring themselves to believe that such phrases are created and repeated merely because they sound good, not for any logical/historical reasons.

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Posted: 10 September 2008 08:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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On a side note, just how old is the business, as in She’s the business! I can’t see any sign of it in the OED entry for business, although I may well have missed it.

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Posted: 10 September 2008 11:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I rest my case.  The other “explanations” are the typical desperate flailings of people who cannot bring themselves to believe that such phrases are created and repeated merely because they sound good, not for any logical/historical reasons.

Well said.

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Posted: 10 September 2008 02:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Now I’m confused.

I don’t mind getting stomped for moral turpitude, but before I do, I would like to know how come the phrase was used by Zane Grey in 1909 if in fact it was coined in the 1920’s ?

Maybe this is a side effect of the Hadron Collider ?

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Posted: 10 September 2008 04:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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The 1920s T.A. Dorgan origin was proffered as a possibility, one that is instantly dismissable because of the earlier Zane Gray citation.

Note that anytime one hears T.A. Dorgan offered up as a coiner of a term, one’s BS detector should go off. He has almost as many terms falsely credited to him as Mark Twain does.

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Posted: 11 September 2008 05:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Zane Gray -

“How’s yer ham-trees?”
“Never heard of sich.”
“Wal, dog-gone me! Why over in Indianer our ham-trees is sproutin’ powerful! An how about bee’s knees? Got any bee’s knees this Spring?”

That’s not the “same”, is it?

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Posted: 11 September 2008 07:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Note that anytime one hears T.A. Dorgan offered up as a coiner of a term, one’s BS detector should go off. He has almost as many terms falsely credited to him as Mark Twain does.

Ah, good to know.  Thanks.

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Posted: 11 September 2008 05:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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murrmac - 10 September 2008 02:26 PM

Now I’m confused.

I don’t mind getting stomped for moral turpitude, but before I do, I would like to know how come the phrase was used by Zane Grey in 1909 if in fact it was coined in the 1920’s ?

Maybe this is a side effect of the Hadron Collider ?


Myridon gave the correct answer above.  The Zane Grey quote was in no way the same usage as the early 20’s usage.

To amplify my examples of newspaper usages earlier than the 1920, to mean small things,

1910:  “What are you going to do when a sweet young thing, the kind you picture subsists on bee’s knees and split nightingale’s tongues remarks, ‘We had winerwurst and sauerkraut for lunch.’ “

1912:  (Earl Rogers, chief attorney in the Clarence Darrow bribery trial, describing the conditions of workingmen of the day)
“So long as there are hungry babes, while others live on fat of the land, there will be vice.  I do not fear violence.  I fought labor unions all my life.  I drew up the famous anti-picketing ordinance.  Yet, if I had to walk the streets all day trying to sell my labor to feed my hungry crying babes and couldn’t get work while others were living on bee’s knees and hummingbird’s tongues and giving monkey dinners, I’d commit violence.  I would tear the front off the First National Bank with my fingernails. “

1914:  A cartoon.  A skinny character.  Asking what he eats, “he eats bee’s knees.”

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Posted: 17 September 2008 02:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Still ... maybe Dorgan had business in mind…

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Posted: 18 September 2008 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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OP Tipping - 17 September 2008 02:04 PM

Still ... maybe Dorgan had business in mind…

... then what was in mind for cat’s pajamas? hats panama?  chutzpah?  ;-)

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