happy as a clam

Several people have emailed me asking where the phrase happy as a clam comes from. They are confused about why anyone would assume that clams were happy. Frankly, I don’t understand their confusion. Wouldn’t you be happy if you got to spend your life at the beach, just lying in the surf with no responsibilities?

Well, they wouldn’t be confused if they knew the whole phrase. Originally, the phrase went happy as a clam in high water. The phrase is an Americanism, dating to at least the 1834 when it appeared in Harvardiana:

That peculiar degree of satisfaction, usually denoted by the phrase “as happy as a clam.”

The full phrase is recorded in Jonathan Slick’s 1844 High Life in New York:

They seemed as happy as clams in high water.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

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