Attested since 1922, of unclear origin. There are several suggested origins, but it may simply have been in imitation of the numerous animal related nonsense phrases popular in the 1920s such as the cat’s pyjamas, cat’s whiskers, cat’s meow, gnat’s elbow, monkey’s eyebrows etc. A popular folk etymology has the phrase referring to World Champion Charleston dancer Bee Jackson. Another suggestion is that the phrase is a corruption of business but this may be a back-formation. The singular bee’s knee is attested from the late 18th century meaning something small or insignificant in the phrase big as a bee’s knee. Also as weak as a bee’s knee is attested in Ireland (1870). It is possible that the bee’s knees is a deliberate inversion of this meaning, but is not attested.Today the phrase seem’s pretty common. I’ve heard t used on the 2003 film School of Rock with Jack Black. How common is it in 2018 is somewhat difficult to track. Five Thirty Eight‘s online tracker doesn’t have it as an option. Google’s Ngram Viewer only tracks until 2000, but is still a wonderful graph. Maybe the more important thing to be aware of isn’t how popular a phrase is (cat’s pajama’s was slightly more popular in 2000), but how cool you look when you use the phrase is probably more important. Unfortunately there’s no graph I can show some one for how cool they look when they use the phrase. If I could find a graph for that I’d be sure to share. When it comes down to it, though I really don’t know anyone who doesn’t like the phrase. This is probably because it’s predominantly used as a compliment. We could use a few more compliments in our daily discourse. So, have a go at it! Why not toss out “the bee’s knees” today in a conversation?
I have a non traditional passion for language. I love the shapes of letters and the obscure words of the English language. On Tuesday I read the Anatoly Liberman‘s etymology blog on the Oxford University Press’ website. On Friday this blog is used to highlight fonts. English is wonderful. It’s wrinkles are well earned and from this author, they are well loved.
Each day we read scriptures together as a family. We have four kids ranging from 17 (happy birthday Eliza!) down to 9. This means we have a lot of different reading abilities. Even among the older kids. The language of the scriptures are wonderful. The vocabulary is generally older than other English texts and it includes a lot of words adopted from it’s original Greek, Hebrew, and Reformed Egyptian. This means there are a lot of unfamiliar words and mispronunciations are prone to happen.
Because of my love for the wrinkles of the language I tend to be pretty good at pronouncing some of the more difficult names and words. When opportunities emerge to lovingly correct my children I’ve noticed I have one daughter who will apply my prompting for a better pronunciation as an opportunity to learn that pronunciation. She usually succeeds.
The other will use my reading of the word as an opportunity to avoid the challenge of learning the hard word. Once it’s spoken (doesn’t matter by whom), she moves on. It’s as though she sees the goal to be having it spoken once in the setting as if there was someone recording our reading. But home is not a place for perfect recitation. There’s no one here recording us. It’s just us. It’s a place of learning.
Both of these habits are illustrative of larger lessons in life.
When my one daughter prefers to move on instead of trying the word herself I feel she’s missing out on an opportunity to learn. On the other hand, her sister is significantly more apt to learn new words at a faster pace because she’s willing to experiment until she gets it correct.
What’s the larger lesson for this in life?
We often find ourselves doing things outside our comfort zone. In some of these cases we have live mentors physically present. In others our mentors are the written or spoken records left behind. When our mentors are present we often don’t want to disappoint. We want to demonstrate that a certain task can be done, but we don’t always want to show our struggle to get to that point. Mentors are more than managers we report to when the task is done. Mentors are those that help us learn to master the task.
How you feel around your mentors demonstrates how you feel about them. If you find yourself apt to practice applying their teaching then you see them as a mentor. If you find yourself focused on the finished product then you’re seeing your mentor more as a manager.
Mentorship is about helping others through journeys great and small. Lessons are found in accomplishing the great tasks of life or even the small ones like learning a better pronunciation.