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I was feeling in a good mood the other day, and the expression happy as Larry sprang to mind (the alternative, like a pig in shit, being perhaps a little coarse). I was wondering about the origin of the phrase. Phrases.org here has two suggestions, about a Australian boxer Larry Foley, and it being derived from larrikins (hooliganism), which is presumably amusing to the perpetrator.

Are either of these correct? Does anyone have any other suggestions?

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I've checked 3 dictionaries and the only one that has something about it is the OED which says "Etymology uncertain"... I guess it's not going to be easy :D –  Alenanno Jul 8 '11 at 11:48
Be thankful you're not an Aussie, you might have BUCKLEY'S. –  Joe Blow Jul 8 '11 at 13:55
Never heard it in the US. –  David M Feb 17 at 17:34

2 Answers 2

According to The Phrase Finder ( http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/as-happy-as-larry.html), this either refers to a boxer or a type of hooligan.

There are two commonly espoused contenders. One is the Australian boxer Larry Foley (1847 - 1917). Foley was a successful pugilist who never lost a fight. He retired at 32 and collected a purse of £1,000 for his final fight. So, we can expect that he was known to be happy with his lot in the 1870s - just when the phrase is first cited.

The alternative explanation is that it relates to the Cornish and later Australian/New Zealand slang term 'larrikin', meaning a rough type or hooligan, i.e. one predisposed to larking about. 'Larrikin' would have been a term that Meredith would have known. The earliest citation of that is also from New Zealand and also around the time of the first citation, in H. W. Harper's Letters from New Zealand, 1868:

"We are beset with larrikins, who lurk about in the darkness and deliver every sort of attack on the walls and roof with stones and sticks."

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Does this answer add anything beyond what the OP asked? –  Colin Fine Jul 8 '11 at 14:37

Larry Fine, one of the three Stooges. Fine is being happy therefore, happy to be fine

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