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  1. #1
    SirGod's Avatar
    SirGod is offline Member
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    Default bee's knees usage (UK/US)

    I am watching a film and I came across this dialogue:

    BrE speaker: Now, remember, you are the bee's knees.
    AmE speaker *confused*
    BrE speaker: It's a good thing.


    Is it used only in BrE? Does an ordinary AmE speaker know what it means? Is there any AmE equivalent?

  2. #2
    Barb_D's Avatar
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    Default Re: bee's knees usage (UK/US)

    It's so old-fashioned and dated that it would only be a joke in modern use. It's right up there with "that's the cat's pajamas" as an expression to mean something good.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  3. #3
    emsr2d2's Avatar
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    Default Re: bee's knees usage (UK/US)

    It's certainly been around a long time but in BrE I wouldn't say that it comes across as old-fashioned. I think I would be more inclined to use it to describe a thing than a person.

    That cake we had last night was the bee's knees.

    I've never heard "the cat's pyjamas" as Barb quoted, but we have another animal-related term - "the dog's b*llocks" (rude, don't use!)

  4. #4
    Tdol is online now Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: bee's knees usage (UK/US)

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post
    we have another animal-related term - "the dog's b*llocks" (rude, don't use!)
    There is a less indelicate version- the mutt's nuts.

  5. #5
    TheParser is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: bee's knees usage (UK/US)

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****


    I think that in the 1920's (No, I had not yet been born!), Americans used to

    say "You're the cat's meow!" (You're the greatest)

  6. #6
    Ouisch's Avatar
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    Default Re: bee's knees usage (UK/US)

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser View Post
    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****


    I think that in the 1920's (No, I had not yet been born!), Americans used to

    say "You're the cat's meow!" (You're the greatest)
    ...or, as my slightly raunchy great-aunt used to say "the cat's a*s".


    But yes, the bee's knees, the cat's pajamas and the snake's hips were all phrases popular in the US during the Roaring 20s. Any time those phrases are used today in US-made films or TV shows is strictly a device to either show the speaker is hopelessly out of date (like Mr. Burns on The Simpsons) or if the speaker is subtly mocking someone who is attempting (with poor results) to be "cool". For example, if your grandpa showed up at a party wearing a polyester leisure suit and thinking he was being very young and modern, you might tell him "Wow, that outfit is really the bee's knees." He won't catch your sarcasm, but those within hearing distance will.

  7. #7
    BobK's Avatar
    BobK is offline Harmless drudge
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    Default Re: bee's knees usage (UK/US)

    I've never heard 'the cat's pajamas'. In his Punch column shortly after Idi Amin's 1971 Ugandan coup d'état - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, the late Alan Coren wrote a spoof diary of Idi Amin, in which he used the term 'the rat's pajamas' (which I read as a newly-coined analogue of 'the bee's knees'. Maybe a US reader conflated this and 'the cat's <whatever>' to make the new coining 'cat's pajamas' (This would be easy to disprove: just find a usage of 'the cat's pajamas' predating 1971.)

    b

  8. #8
    Ouisch's Avatar
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    Default Re: bee's knees usage (UK/US)

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    I've never heard 'the cat's pajamas'. In his Punch column shortly after Idi Amin's 1971 Ugandan coup d'état - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, the late Alan Coren wrote a spoof diary of Idi Amin, in which he used the term 'the rat's pajamas' (which I read as a newly-coined analogue of 'the bee's knees'. Maybe a US reader conflated this and 'the cat's <whatever>' to make the new coining 'cat's pajamas' (This would be easy to disprove: just find a usage of 'the cat's pajamas' predating 1971.)

    b
    Well, according to the Word Detective usage of "the cat's pajamas" as a slang term was firsrt recorded in 1920.

  9. #9
    JMurray is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: bee's knees usage (UK/US)

    When I was a kid in NZ "the cat's pajamas" was something I would occasionally hear among my parents' generation, aunties and uncles etc. An Australian friend also remembers it.
    I still hear "the bee's knees" every now and then.

    not a teacher

  10. #10
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    Default Re: bee's knees usage (UK/US)

    Quote Originally Posted by Ouisch View Post
    Well, according to the Word Detective usage of "the cat's pajamas" as a slang term was firsrt recorded in 1920.
    So much for speculating 'from the hip'!

    b

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