Blog Schedule

I post on Monday with an occasional random blog thrown in for good measure. I do my best to answer all comments via email and visit around on the days I post.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Origins - Happy as a Clam - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more
Origins is a recurring past in which I delve into the history of a word or phrase.

Today's phrase is:

Happy as a clam.

Have you ever met a happy clam? If you have, just how happy was it? And how did you know it was happy? Was it smiling at you?
Clams 999

Actually...they do kind of look like they're smiling, which is one reason given for the phrase. But the truth is probably simpler.  Most everywhere I looked suggested that "happy as a clam" is only the first part of a longer phrase, "happy as a clam at high water." And why would a clam be happy at high water? It would be safer from predators and people who might want to eat them.

Yeah, if I were a clam I'd be happy at high tide too. It is an American idiom.

In 1840 an American poet by the name of John Godfrey Saxe  wrote this "Sonnet to a Clam."

Inglorious friend! most confident I am
   Thy life is one of very little ease;
   Albeit men mock thee with their similes
And prate of being "happy as a clam!"
What though thy shell protects thy fragile head
   From the sharp bailiffs of the briny sea?
   Thy valves are, sure, no safety-valves to thee,
While rakes are free to desecrate thy bed,
And bear thee off -- as foemen take their spoil --
   Far from thy friends and family to roam;
   Forced, like a Hessian, from they native home,
To meet destruction in a foreign broil!
   Though thou art tender yet thy humble bard
   Declares, O clam! thy case is shocking hard!

(I have to laugh. "Forced, like a Hessian from thy native home?" )

A second recorded mention of it is from the Pennsylvania newspaper The Adams Sentinel, from August 1844: "Crispin was soon hammering and whistling away as happy as a clam at high water."

So there you have it. Are you happy now? If not, try these phrases on for size.
Happy as:
a lark
a pig in slop/in mud
the day is long
a dog with two tails
a kid in a candy store
a bug in a rug
a monkey with a peanut machine
a fox in a hen house

Can you think of any others?


  1. I always say 'as happy as Larry' but I have no idea why, or who Larry was. I could google it I guess, it just never occurred to me before :-)

  2. Oh bugger! Sarah beat me to it! That's what I was going to say. I reckon Larry might be an Aussie bloke with corks dangling off his hat, and that he's happy because the flies that plague Aussies in summer aren't flying up his nose. Yep, that's my theory. :o)

  3. Happy as a clam. Lived on the beach for 30 years and never knew the origin of that phrase. Thanks for sharing. Considering I'm going through my edits right now, maybe I'll drop it in the book. Everybody says I'm full of cliches anyway.

    Love the Hessians in a foreign boil. That's fab.

    I always say happy as a pig in poop, but that' just me being gross.

  4. I like this line:

    From the sharp bailiffs of the briny sea?

  5. Thanks for the info -- I never knew what happy as a clam meant, but adding "at high tide" explains a lot.

  6. I thought it was snug as a bug in in rug? Now I'm thinking too hard...

  7. Ha! Very cool to know the beginnings of happy as a clam.

  8. The brain won't come up with any others, sorry. Those were all the ones I knew...

  9. That's very interesting. Who woulda thunk? I like the happy as a monkey with a peanut machine! I hadn't heard of that one before!

  10. Happy as a pig in slop. Uh-huh, that is me. I love these, Bish. Going to tell them to Ivy in school. Thanks for showing us the meaning. (And writing a sonnet to a clam?) Hmmmm

    Smooches, Bish.

  11. Love it! I've always liked that saying, it brings a cheeky grin to my face whenever I hear it.

    Happy weekend!

  12. Haha! I love that sonnet to a clam. Too funny. Happy as a clam is a funny one - it always makes me laugh!

  13. I blush to say this, but I recently heard that 'happy as a dog with two tails' was in fact something quite crude to begin with, and 'tails' was chosen as a euphemism. Or maybe that person was just having fun with me...

    Why are Hessians singled out as people who were uprooted from their homes? So many others have suffered that fate; it seems an odd choice for the writer to use. Whatever the case, I've always wondered why clams were thought to be happy, and you've answered that conundrum, so thank you.

  14. That's really interesting.

    Funny enough -- the first one that popped into my mind was Mater from the original CARS movie where he says, "I'm happy as a trailer park in a tornado!" Or, something like that.

  15. I always wondered about that phrase.
    "Pleased as punch" always struck me as funny, too - maybe that was from Punch and Judy...? Now I'm going to have to look it up. :)


Your Random Thoughts are most welcome!