A lighthearted nonsense phrase indicating approval or mild excitement. It began to be used in the late 60s and early 70s, popularized by the pop culture of the time.
As one of the commonest and most nourishing of human foods, beans have long been used as symbols of various aspects of life. Often a single bean means something, for example “bean counter” to mean someone devoted to minor details and ignorant of the “big picture.” Since the 19th century, “hill of beans” has meant something of little or no value. I can remember my father saying of someone, “His ideas aren’t worth a hill of beans.” Then there’s “Not to know beans,” which is the ultimate in ignorance, and “Not to care beans,” which is another way of saying, “So what!”
“Tough beans!” means “Tough luck. Who cares?” I must have learned this one early because it pops into my head whenever some over-privileged person on TV is whining about his or her fate in life. We say that revealing a secret is “spilling the beans,” which makes sense when you realize that dry beans, once spilled, are difficult to gather up again.
Another construction, remembered from my childhood is “full of beans.” I always heard it in the sense of “lively, full of energy,” but apparently it’s also been used to mean “full of nonsense.” It began as horse-racing jargon, referring to a “sprightly horse.”
“Cool beans,” meaning “excellent” or “that’s great,” apparently originated as college slang in the US during the 1970s, but many people probably picked it up from 1980s TV programs. The phrase may actually be a more modern version of the colloquial US expression “some beans,” which has been used since the mid-19th century to mean “quite something” or “awesome,” as in, “By golly, you’re some beans in a bar-fight.” (1850)
It’s Sunday morning and I am about to brew some ground coffee beans into a shot and a half Americano, otherwise known as “jet fuel.” Cool beans! Also, hot beans!