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The Cat's Meow

Dear AC,

I have a question about an old saying. What does "the cat's meow" mean?

Gloria

Dear Gloria,

The cat's meow, from the 1920s, means "great." Flappers, the wild young women of that era who showed off their knees (shocking!) and danced until morning, had a boatload of similar animal-related terms.

For example, you could also say you liked something by calling it the bee's knees, the cat's pajamas, or the elephant's instep. Why they used these terms is a mystery, but it might have had something to do with the quality of the homemade liquor they were drinking night after night.

If you are unfamiliar with American history, the eighteenth amendment, passed in 1919, made alcohol illegal here from 1920 to 1933. Flappers were therefore forced to get their kicks from bathtub gin of questionable purity, possibly contributing to hallucinations of pink elephants (the standard phantom of American drunks) and other odd animals.

Your pal,

A. C. Kemp

P.S. For more info on 1920s slang, check out All That Jazz in Music.

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