Thursday, November 17, 2011
Origins - Happy as a Clam
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?
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.
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?