What Does The Cat’S Pajamas Mean In Slang?

The phrase “the cat’s pajamas” is a 1920s American slang term meaning something excellent or superior. It was a popular saying during the Prohibition era flapper subculture. The cat’s pajamas referred to the “best of something,” much like how we might say “the bee’s knees” today. While its exact origins are unclear, the phrase seems to derive from “pajamas” being a foreign concept at the time, considered fashionable and exotic. As cats were seen as hip and cool, likening something to “the cat’s pajamas” marked it as stylish and special. This American idiom peaked in the Jazz Age but soon faded from use. While not as common today, “the cat’s pajamas” still conveys a sense of excellence in a delightfully vintage way.


The phrase “the cat’s pajamas” first emerged in the early 1920s as part of American slang. In the 1920s, “cat” was used as a term to describe someone who was hip or cool. “Pajamas” were a relatively new fashion item at the time, considered stylish and luxurious. Combining these two terms, “the cat’s pajamas” came to mean something excellent, spectacular, or cool.

The exact origin of the phrase is unclear, but many credit the American cartoonist Thomas Aloysius “Tad” Dorgan with popularizing it. Dorgan was known for his cartoons featuring slang terms and colorful language. In the 1920s, “the cat’s pajamas” began appearing in his comic strips, helping to spread the phrase’s popularity. Other early references to “the cat’s pajamas” can be found in the lyrics of 1920s songs and in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 novel The Beautiful and Damned, suggesting it arose as part of the youthful slang and jazz culture of that era.

By the mid-1920s, “the cat’s pajamas” was a well-established way to describe someone or something excellent or highly admired. The phrase’s unconventional pairing of “cat” and “pajamas” gave it a lively, playful quality that appealed to young people and contributed to its popularity in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Popularity in the 1920s

The phrase “the cat’s pajamas” saw a surge in popularity during the 1920s. This growth aligned with the rise of jazz music and flapper culture during the Roaring Twenties. “Cat’s pajamas” became a slang term used to describe something that was excellent, fashionable, fun or highly admired. As noted on the website Phrases.org, “The Cat’s Pajamas was so fashionable a term as to be taken up as the name of many things in the 1920s – a dance, a stage show, a song, a film, even the name of a brand of soap.”1 The carefree spirit and vernacular of the jazz era made “the cat’s pajamas” a hip way to express approval and praise.

Flappers and others would use “the cat’s pajamas” to describe the latest fashions, music, parties or people. It was a phrase that encapsulated the cultural excitement of the time. The slang term was popularized further through songs like “The Cat’s Pajamas” by Ray Lopez in 1922. By the mid to late 1920s, “the cat’s pajamas” had become a widely recognized way to say that something was excellent or spectacular, especially among young people participating in the jazz scene.


The phrase “the cat’s pajamas” means someone or something that is excellent, cool, fashionable, or impressive. It is typically used to describe a person who is exceptional or remarkable in some way. The phrase gained popularity in the 1920s as a way to say someone or something was the best or greatest.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “cat’s pajamas” as “something or someone highly exciting, enjoyable, or admired.” Merriam-Webster notes it is “used to say that someone or something is very good, stylish, impressive.”

“The cat’s pajamas” was one of several slang phrases that emerged in the 1920s to indicate something was excellent or fashionable, along with similar phrases like “the bee’s knees,” “the monkey’s eyebrows,” and “the gnat’s whistle.” While these phrases may sound nonsensical, they were used to convey approval and enthusiasm during the Jazz Age.


“The cat’s pajamas” is commonly used to describe someone or something that is excellent, amazing, desirable, or highly admired. For example:

“That new sports car is the cat’s pajamas!”

“She’s one of the top surgeons in the country. She’s really the cat’s pajamas.”

It can be used sincerely or sarcastically depending on the context. The phrase is often exclaimed enthusiastically to express approval or excitement about something.

Some similar slang phrases from the same era with a similar meaning include “the bee’s knees,” “the canary’s tusks,” and “the gnat’s whiskers.” Like “the cat’s pajamas,” these phrases were popular during the 1920s Jazz Age but are now considered dated slang.

Decline in Use

The phrase “the cat’s pajamas” started to decline in popularity in the late 1920s and early 1930s. A few key reasons contributed to it falling out of favor as a slang phrase:

The stock market crash of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression changed American culture and tastes. The carefree, frivolous youth culture of the 1920s faded as economic hardships set in. Using silly catchphrases like “the cat’s pajamas” no longer felt fitting.

Prohibition also ended in 1933, marking a shift away from underground speakeasies where slang like “the cat’s pajamas” flourished. With the repeal of Prohibition, alcohol consumption became legal again, and many Americans turned away from the rebellious spirit of the 1920s.

By the 1930s and 1940s, new slang phrases emerged and the flapper fashion and culture that popularized “the cat’s pajamas” disappeared. As youth culture changed, the phrase simply fell out of mainstream use and became dated.

The stock market crash and Great Depression made frivolous slang seem outdated. Prohibition ending also diminished the underground culture where the phrase thrived. And new generational slang pushed it into obscurity. By the mid-20th century, “the cat’s pajamas” had largely disappeared from everyday American vocabulary.

Modern Usage

The phrase “the cat’s pajamas” is not as commonly used today as it was in the 1920s. However, it still occasionally pops up in modern pop culture as a reference to the past or as part of period fiction. For example:

– In the cartoon show Hey Arnold!, several characters use the phrase “the cat’s pajamas” when describing something excellent. As a cartoon set in a fictionalized Brooklyn between the 1920s and 1990s, it incorporates period slang.

– The Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit featured the phrase several times, likely because the show is set in 1950s and 1960s America.

– The sci-fi show Futurama had a 2014 episode entitled “The Cats’ Bahamas”, playing off the original phrase.

– Modern music artists like Brian Setzer and Pokey LaFarge have songs that reference “the cat’s pajamas” as a way of invoking vintage slang.[1]

So while not as ubiquitous today, “the cat’s pajamas” still appears just enough in pop culture to remind modern audiences of its Jazz Age origins and peak popularity.

Regional Variations

While the phrase “the cat’s pajamas” originated in the United States, there are some regional differences in how it spread and was adopted across the country. According to research from The Content Authority, the phrase was most popular in the Philadelphia area during the 1920s, but didn’t gain widespread familiarity across the rest of the U.S. until the 1930s and 40s.

In the U.K. and other English-speaking countries, the phrase is not as well known or used compared to the U.S. Some unique local versions exist, like “the bee’s knees” in parts of England and Australia.

Related Slang

“The cat’s pajamas” was one of many animal-themed slang phrases popular in the 1920s. Here are some other examples of similar slang from the era:

Other animal slang phrases:

  • “The bee’s knees” – extraordinary or outstanding
  • “The monkey’s eyebrows” – something excellent or superior
  • “The gnat’s whistle” – a tiny bit of something

Similar expressions:

  • “The top of the heap” – the very best
  • “The duck’s quack” – the genuine article
  • “The snake’s hips” – the height of fashion

These zany phrases comparing things to animals’ body parts were ubiquitous in 1920s slang. Like “the cat’s pajamas,” they were used to describe something as the absolute best or most excellent.


In summary, the phrase “the cat’s pajamas” originated in the early 1920s as a popular American slang expression meaning excellent or outstanding. It gained widespread use during the Jazz Age and Prohibition era, when creative slang flourished. Though its exact origins are unknown, many credit New York City’s jazz scene as the birthplace of this whimsical phrase comparing something wonderful to a cat’s pair of PJs. While use declined mid-century, “the cat’s pajamas” remains an enduring piece of 1920s vernacular. Its legacy lives on in vintage films, books, music, and more that keep Jazz Age lingo alive. Though it sounds silly and nonsensical, this quirky idiom continues to convey enthusiasm and delight at something or someone considered the best of the best.

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