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13 July 2004


"Bee's knees" is actually one of a set of nonsense catchphrases from 1920s America, the period of the flappers. You might at that time have heard such curious concoctions as "cat's miaow", "elephant's adenoids", "tiger's spots", "bullfrog's beard", "elephant's instep", "caterpillar's kimono", "turtle's neck", "duck's quack", "gnat's elbows", "monkey's eyebrows", "oyster's earrings", "snake's hips", "kipper's knickers", "elephant's manicure", "clam's garter", "eel's ankle", "leopard's stripes", "tadpole's teddies", "sardine's whiskers", "pig's wings", "bullfrog's beard", "canary's tusks", "cuckoo's chin" and "butterfly's book".

Their only common feature was the comparison of something of excellent quality to a part of an animal with, if possible, a bit of alliteration thrown in.

From a series on myths about language, in The Telegraph.

Posted at 03:54 PM in Nonsense | Permalink


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Really, Foe, cut the flappers a bit of slack – they also use assonance.

Posted by: Dom at 14 Jul 2004 12:08:48

You misunderstand me Dom; I enjoyed the simplicity of the rule. You're right about the assonance, though - it's key to the most enduring one, i.e. the bee's knees.

You're the shrew's tattoo!

(I wanted to call you the rhino's lino until I realised that, cool as it may sound to me, lino isn't a body part. It would make a good substitute skin for a rhino, if required, though, don't you think?)

Posted by: Foe at 14 Jul 2004 12:28:26

Gibbon's ribbons!

Cat's cravat!

OK... must stop now.

Posted by: Foe at 14 Jul 2004 12:35:09

Reminds me of a song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (kind of the missing link between Monty Python and the Beatles) called ‘We Were Wrong’ (written by Neil Innes, the Bonzo who went on to be the Python alumnus who wrote the Rutles’ songs in the Eric Idle side-project):

I’m going to rhino
Over your lino.
I’m going to rhino with you.
In all kinds of leather
We rhino together.
We’ll keep rhinoing through.

I don’t know what it means either, but it makes me laugh, so I don’t mind being the rhino’s lino.

Posted by: Dom at 17 Jul 2004 05:49:25