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What is the origin of "cool beans"? I know some sites (wiktionary) claim it's from the Cheech & Chong 1978 movie Up in Smoke, but I'm talking to people who remember it being used earlier. (USA).

I remember using the phrase in the mid-1980s (elementary school in Maryland) , and I assumed it had to do with Jelly Belly (a gourmet jelly bean company).

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  • I don't know why the idea that it originated with Cheech & Chong persists, but the word "beans" does not actually appear in any of the transcripts. caption files, or screenplays I have found online.
    – choster
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 0:58
  • I've read it a few times and assumed it was some sort of Beatnik expression. "Cool", of course, is a well-known Beatnik term, but what is meant by "beans" in this context is unclear (Urban Dictionary gives several likely meanings).
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 0:39
  • The captured German in the film “Saving Private Ryan” says “cool beans” when trying to convince the American soldiers how much he loves America. So if that’s anything to go by then its been around since at least 1944. Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 23:26
  • Well, oeuf corse is better in this sense. [say it out loud, folks, think French).
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 17:15

3 Answers 3

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The Oxford English Dictionary's earliest attestation for "cool beans" is from the 1985 book Grandpa Ritz and the Luscious Lovelies:

"Oh, wow! Cool beans!" I whispered.

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  • Elsewhere in the same book (page 30): "'It's cool beans!' That's what Betsy always says when she thinks something is fantastic, and I couldn't help wondering what she'd say if she could see me now. ..." J.E. Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994) notes that in the early 20th century "beans!" by itself was "used to indicate surprise, annoyance, disbelief, etc."; Lighter cites an example from O. Johnson, Stover at Yale (1911): "Oh, beans!" This may be an unrelated usage, however.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 2:51
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I cannot find where I read this, but I recollect from my college days as a linguistics minor, that it originated from the French-Canadian explorers “cours bien” meaning “the course/path is good.” I can dig it.

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    Tommie, this might be a very good answer if it can be backed up by authoritative sources. I think you might rewrite the answer with some sources, and not have us depend on recollection.
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 0:31
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    I have been trying to find the source! Thus far, I have found nothing and I know I didn' t make it up! I'm not that smart! It makes me feel like I am crazy...It has become my mission to find the source. I even dug out some of my linguistics texts. I will find it! :)
    – Tommiegirl
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 13:54
  • I like this -- if you can find a citation, that will be my official explanation in the future! Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 13:59
  • Good for you, Tommie1
    – J. Taylor
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 14:37
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    The paragraph in your link originated on Wiktionary in 2011, added by an anonymous user. I'd expect that this is the only evidence you'll find in favor of this alleged etymology, because they surely made the entire thing up, even the alleged original French.
    – Laurel
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 22:32
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The term shows up in a couple of college newspapers in 1984 and 1985. The 1984 one is from a page full of end-of-the school-year personals in The Daily Northwestern at Northwestern University. It reads, in part:

"It's been a great year my friend! Here's to your cool-beans smile and great laugh!" - "The Last Personal". The Daily Northwestern, May 24, 1984, p8

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