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Origin Stories: The Bee’s Knees and Busy as a Bee

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Bees play such an important role in our everyday lives that it is no wonder that they also play a role in the English language. If you think about it, there are tons of common idioms that involve the bee. Have you ever wondered how these sayings came to be? In today’s post, we are going to explore the meanings and origins of two of our favorite bee-related sayings: The Bee’s Knees and Busy as a Bee. Here we go! 

The Bee’s Knees

During the 1920s, Flappers always looked like they were having one heck of a good time. And we can certainly see that through some of the rather whimsical language that they developed during that period in history. There was a big trend of using nonsensical, playful sayings that made reference to various animals and their “distinguishing characteristics.” 

The cat’s pajamas, the monkey’s eyebrows and the snake’s hips were all part of the common vernacular during this time. The phrases were used to describe something wonderful, admirable or amazingly excellent. So, you might say something like this: When it comes to live bee removal, D-Tek Live Bee Removal is the bee’s knees. 

According to one article, the phrase originally referred to something small and insignificant back in the late 18th century. Later, it came to mean something rare or delicious. Then in the early 1920s, it came to mean what we know and still use to some degree today. The Bees Knees was even a popular song in 1923.  

Still other explanations abound, none of them directly supported by evidence. Some believe that the phrase came about because of the way in which bees bring pollen back to their hives. The pollen is collected and stored in sacs on their legs to keep it safe while they make a beeline back to the hive… see what we did there? 

Proponents of this origin story allege that the phrase refers to the valuable, wonderful and amazingly excellent pollen that can be found on the legs (and near the “knees”) of the bees. Others believe it to be a reference to an actual person – Bee Jackson. Bee was a famous dancer during this time period known for bringing the popular dance The Charleston to the mainstream. Perhaps The Bee’s Knees actually refers very literally to the knees of Bee Jackson as they uniquely and wonderfully moved about on the stage. 

No matter where the phrase originated from, it’s still not too uncommon for it to be used in the modern day English language. Sure, it’s rare to hear people use the saying, but we all know that bringing back retro slang is the bee’s knees. 

Busy as a Bee

This bee saying is one that most of us have heard or may have even said a time or two in our lives. The busy-ness of bees plays a central role in many children’s book and cartoons. So, the saying Busy as a Bee seems to make sense. But is it really true that bees are busy? 

One of the earliest sources that makes reference to the phrase is Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Written in about 1392, Chaucer compared women to busy bees. It seems that the phrase stuck from here and has been used for centuries to describe someone or something that works hard and is always very busy. 

If you believe all the hype, bees are some of the busiest and most industrious species out there. In reality, although some bees do keep quite busy during the day, the amount of work and the types of duties they perform varies greatly from bee to bee.  

The male drones are perhaps the “laziest” of the honey bees, only leaving the hive for a short time each day. The queen, although very busy laying up to 2,000 eggs a day, doesn’t leave the hive at all and relies on the worker bees to feed her and remove her waste. As their name suggests, the worker bees are probably the busiest of them all, but even these bees take plenty of rest in the evenings and in cold weather. 

With all of this considered, we think it’s fair to say that bees are truly busy little creatures and so the phrase holds up! 

What are your favorite bee-related idioms? Check back to our blog next month for more of our favorite bee phrases!