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 thy 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!
--John G Saxe, Sonnet to a Clam
I overheard someone use the expression, "happy as a clam" yesterday. My immediate response was how do we know clams are happy? And how happy can a mollusk be?
Apparently the full expression used to be "happy as a clam at high tide." And the clams are supposed to be happy because no one can dig them up at high tide, boil them alive and eat them. I guess that would make me relieved, but not necessarily happy. It would explain why we don't say "Happy as a lobster on a cruise."
And what about geoducks? They live to be about 150 years old. Are they happy? I don't think so. How could you be happy if you looked like a horse's private parts and sucked on plankton 24-7?
I really don't think mollusk's in general are a happy lot. So I think we need to rethink the whole "happy as a clam" reference. I don't think "happy as a pig in shit" makes a lot of sense either (though pigs do seem more jovial than geoducks). I'm not sure why campers are considered "happy" either. Crapping in the woods and sleeping on the ground never had me leaping for joy.
In New Zealand and Australia they apparently say, "Happy as Larry" as in "We would be as happy as Larry if it were not for the rats." Larry apparently was a undefeated Australian boxer. I'm not sure what the rats have to do with it.
Of course the Aussies also say stuff like "happy as a boxing kangaroo in fog time" and "happy as a sick eel on a sandspit." They apparently don't say stuff like, "happy as a shrimp on a barbie" (which conjures up all kinds of weird things if you think about it long enough).
So what can we really be happy as? Happy as a maggot on rotted veal? Happy as a cow at a vegetarian convention? Happy as a condemned man on an electric chair during a blackout? Happy as vampire at a blood bank? Happy as a mime in a hearing aid store? Happy as a mosquito at a nudist colony?
I don't know. I'm not happy with any of those expressions.