She said she was approaching forty, and I couldn't help wondering from what direction.

~ Bob Hope ~

Can You Really Be as Happy as a Clam?

November 21st, 2011 ~ Est. reading time: 1 min, 42 secs

Happy as a clam? Sure. Why not?

Honestly, where did this expression come from? Do clams live fulfilled lives at the bottom of the sea, mixing it with the other bivalves and molluscs?  Perhaps you can picture a row of happy clams resting (they can’t recline) on sun lounges by the sandpit (clams don’t need a pool if they’re living under water). No, I’m sorry, this image doesn’t work for me. Happy as a clam? Not if I’m about to turned into clam chowder.

My old mate, Wikipedia, reckons the term happy as a clam is short for happy as a clam at high tide. The writer suggests these little shellfish are happy because then nobody can dig them up and eat them.

But I’m not convinced little clams feel that much about anything.

Then I noticed that an individual clam found in 2007 near Iceland has been verified to be at least 405 years old! How on Earth did they even think to check this clam’s age in the first place? Maybe it was the only one pushing a zimmer frame… Either way, spotting geriatric clams on the seafloor has to be a studied art; one that excites me about as much as peeling a sack of potatoes.

But perhaps that’s it. If clams can live that long, maybe that’s the reason they are known to be happy. I assume the hoary old scallop was in fine fettle and had a lusty squeak (Yes some clams can “sing”, though not The Sound of Music stuff. Happy as a clam might be, they can’t hold a note.). What if their amazing powers for longevity were the clue to a clam’s happiness?

Nah! That’s a bit far fetched (though it was fun to think about). How could a clam know it was beating most other critters shell down in the age stakes?

That leaves me to one final theory. What if the happy as a clam comment sprang from the apparently smiling shape of the shell? Could it be that some kid made a chance remark long ago that stuck? My guess is clams’ smiling contours led to the term being coined. Now the rest is shellfish history.

So when someone says you’re looking as happy as a clam, pause to think about all of the above. Then “blame” some kid for creating such a kooky but wonderful way of putting a happy as a clam smile on your dial.


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