any hymenopterous insect of the superfamily Apoidea, including social and solitary species of several families, as the bumblebees, honeybees, etc.
the common honeybee, Apis mellifera.
a community social gathering in order to perform some task, engage in a contest, etc.: a sewing bee; a spelling bee; a husking bee.


    have a bee in one's bonnet,
    1. to be obsessed with one idea.
    2. to have eccentric or fanciful ideas or schemes: Our aunt obviously has a bee in her bonnet, but we're very fond of her.
    put the bee on, Informal. to try to obtain money from, as for a loan or donation: My brother just put the bee on me for another $10.
    the bee's knees, Older Slang. (especially in the 1920s) a person or thing that is wonderful, great, or marvelous: Her new roadster is simply the bee's knees.

Origin of bee

before 1000; Middle English be(e); Old English bīo, bēo; cognate with Dutch bij, Old Saxon bī, bini, Old High German bīa, bini (German Biene), Old Norse bȳ; with other suffixes, Lithuanian bìtė, OPruss bitte, OCS bĭchela, Old Irish bech; *bhi- is a North European stem with the same distribution as wax1, apple; put the bee on probably an allusion to sting in sense “dupe, cheat”
Related formsbee·like, adjective
Can be confusedbe bee Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for bee's knees

bee's knees

noun the bee's knees

(functioning as singular) informal an excellent or ideally suitable person or thing




any hymenopterous insect of the superfamily Apoidea, which includes social forms such as the honeybee and solitary forms such as the carpenter beeSee also bumblebee, mason bee Related adjective: apian
busy bee a person who is industrious or has many things to do
have a bee in one's bonnet to be preoccupied or obsessed with an idea

Word Origin for bee

Old English bīo; related to Old Norse , Old High German bīa, Dutch bij, Swedish bi




a social gathering for a specific purpose, as to carry out a communal task or hold competitionsquilting bee

Word Origin for bee

C18: perhaps from dialect bean neighbourly help, from Old English bēn boon




nautical a small sheave with one cheek removed and the pulley and other cheek fastened flat to a boom or another spar, used for reeving outhauls or stays

Word Origin for bee

Old English bēag; related to Old High German boug ring, Old Norse bogi a bow


abbreviation for (in South Africa)

Black Economic Empowerment: a government policy aimed at encouraging and supporting shareholding by black people
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for bee's knees

1923, a survivor of a fad around this year for slang terms denoting "excellence" and based on animal anatomy. Also existed in the more ribald form bee's nuts. Other versions that lasted through the century are cat's whiskers (1923), cat's pajamas, cat's meow. More obscure examples are canary's tusks, cat's nuts and flea's eyebrows. The fad still had a heartbeat in Britain at the end of the century, as attested by the appearance of dog's bollocks in 1989. Bee's knee was used as far back as 1797 for "something insignificant."



stinging insect, Old English beo "bee," from Proto-Germanic *bion (cf. Old Norse by, Old High German bia, Middle Dutch bie), possibly from PIE root *bhi- "quiver." Used metaphorically for "busy worker" since 1530s.

Sense of "meeting of neighbors to unite their labor for the benefit of one of their number," 1769, American English, probably is from comparison to the social activity of the insect; this was extended to other senses (e.g. spelling bee, first attested 1809; Raising-bee (1814) for building construction; also hanging bee "a lynching"). To have a bee in (one's) bonnet (1825), said of one who is harebrained or has an intense new notion or fancy, is said in Jamieson to be Scottish, perhaps from earlier expressions such as head full of bees (1510s), denoting mad mental activity.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with bee's knees


In addition to the idiom beginning with bee

  • bee in one's bonnet
  • been around
  • been had
  • been there, done that
  • been to the wars

also see:

  • birds and the bees
  • busy as a beaver (bee)
  • make a beeline for
  • none of one's business (beeswax)
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.