Phrase: happy as a clam; happy as a clam at high water

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Nov 19 21:35:45 UTC 2013

At 11/19/2013 03:14 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>On Nov 19, 2013, at 1:48 PM, Charles C Doyle wrote:
> > It strikes me, intuitively, that elaboration is as probable (in
> general) as abbreviation.  I'm fairly certain that "Cold as a
> witch's tit" was subsequently decorated, amplified (as the old
> rhetoricians would have said) into "Cold as a witch's tit in a
> brass brassiere," for example.  There's a subtle social pressure to
> be cleverer than previous utterers of a given expression.  (Thence
> the "creativity" of folklore, in contrast to mere rote repetition.)
>The difference for me is that "cold as a witch's tit" is
>sufficiently semantically motivated without the brass bra accouterment

In support of Larry, back in the Dark Ages were witch's tits thought
to be cold (icy blood), just as various kinds of skin blemishes were
thought to identify witches?


>(related to those frost-deballed brass monkeys?), while "happy as a
>clam" isn't, or at least not obviously so.  Similarly, I can imagine
>"happy as a pig in slop/shit/mud/..." being shortened to "happy as a
>pig" by someone not on intimate terms with pigdom, while the bare
>simile isn't particularly motivated.  (This is without knowing the
>citation history on pigs and happiness.)
>As opposed to "happy as a lark", or of course "happy as Larry",
>which are both eminently motivated in their short form.
> >
> > Of course, since we're largely dealing with oral tradition here,
> authentic dating is so difficult.
> >
> > Charlie
> >
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > I wonder if 1833 for "happy as a clam" vs. 1836 for "happy as a clam
> > at high water" (or 1828 for "sad as a clam") has any
> > significance.  The dates are very close.  We may just not have found
> > "happy as a clam at high water" earlier.  For me, common sense says
> > "happy as a clam at high water" would come first, as it is logical
> > and explanatory.  And "happy as a clam" developed later, as a
> > shorter, abbreviated phrase.
> >
> > And Barry and Larry (and the sailors; see below) agree with me.
> >
> > P.S.  I can mildly antedate Barry's 14 January 1836 (Newark (NJ)
> > Daily Advertiser, pg. 2, col. 1) citation for "happy as a clam at
> > high water".  It's also to "Mrs. Butternut":  "Dear Mrs. Butternut, I
> > must leave off, for I can't say any more, only that if I was once
> > more safe at home, I should be happy as a clam at high water, as the
> > sailors say."  7 January 1836, Boston Courier, "The Oakwood Letters.
> > Letter No. II. Aunt Sally to Mrs. Butternut.  At Seam Jun.
> > 16th.",  4/1.  19th Century U.S. Newspapers.
> >
> > Joel
> >
> >
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society -
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society -
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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