This English expression is commonly used in day-to-day conversation as a metaphor rather than in a literal sense. If you want to find out more about its origin and meaning then keep reading!
The expression is employed in order to denote that something is really good or excellent. It most often relates to the extremely high quality of something.
It is believed that the expression first came into use in 20th century America. At this time it was used in a nonsensical way such as in Zane Grey’s 1909 story, The Shortstop, which reads “How’s yer ham trees? Wal, dog-gone me! Why, over in Indianer our ham trees is sproutin’ powerful. An’ how about the bee’s knees? Got any bee’s knees this Spring?” It is likely that it came into use solely because the words “bee” and “knee” rhyme.
It was in around the 1920s that the expression began to take on a meaning. The idea behind it was that when a bee carries pollen back to their hive it is stored in small sacs on their legs and therefore the high quality honey is kept close to the knees of bees.
An example of this expression in use can be found in Jonathan Safran Foer’s, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It reads “she wanted more, more slang, more figures of speech, the bee’s knees, the cats pajamas, horse of a different color, dog-tired, she wanted to talk like she was born here, like she never came from anywhere else”