What is the origin of the phrase 'the bee's knees'?

The phrase was first recorded in the late 18th century, when it was used to mean 'something very small and insignificant'. Its current meaning dates from the 1920s, at which time a whole collection of American slang expressions were coined with the meaning 'an outstanding person or thing'. Examples included the flea's eyebrows, the canary's tusks, and one that still survives - the cat's whiskers. The switch in meaning for the bee's knees  probably emerged because it was so similar in structure and pattern to these other phrases.

 

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