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Many go about saying I'm as happy as a clam, or Tom is as happy as a clam, but what are the origins to this phrase and what makes a clam happy?

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  • (as) happy as a clam very happy I am happy as a clam living all by myself in this little house by the sea. Etymology: based on the full form of the phrase happy as a clam in mud at high tide (a clam that cannot be dug up and eaten, which therefore could be considered happy) idioms.thefreedictionary.com/happy+as+a+clam – Kris Oct 1 '13 at 13:06
  • And yet, the reason most people use it now is because clam shells look like a smile when you hold them the right way. There's a long discussion there about how idioms get started and how they keep going, and how often those aren't the same-- doesn't really fit the Stack format, though. – mjfgates Oct 1 '13 at 13:40
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The earliest in the OED is:

1834 Harvardiana I. 121 That peculiar degree of satisfaction, usually denoted by the phrase ‘as happy as a clam’.

I found a couple of slight antedatings. First from Atkinson's Casket, or Gems of Literature, Wit and Sentiment (Page 571, No. 12, Philadelphia, Decemeber 1833):

On entering, he found the negro in the only dry spot in the house — the chimney corner — as happy as a clam, fiddling most merrily.

On entering, he found the negro in the only dry spot in the house — the chimney corner — as happy as a clam, fiddling most merrily.

Second from a book, The Harpe's Head: A Legend of Kentucky (Page 46, 1833) by James Hall:

He was as happy as a clam. His horses thrived, and his corn yielded famously ; and when his neighbors indignantly repeated their long catalogue of grievances, he quietly responded that King George had never him any harm.

He was as happy as a clam. His horses thrived, and his corn yielded famously ; and when his neighbors indignantly repeated their long catalogue of grievances, he quietly responded that King George had never him any harm.

Finally, not an antedating, but an extract of why clams are happy from a six-page discussion of "Clams!" in The Knickerbocker (Volume 11, March 1838):

only hope Reader have you a sympathy for clams 1 Happy as a clam is an old adage It is not without meaning Your clam enjoys the true otium cum dignitale Ensconced in his mail of proof for defence purely his disposition being no ways bellicose he snugly nestleth in his mucid bed revels in quiescent luxury in the unctuous loam that surroundetb him or with slow and dignified motion worketh nearer the surface as the summer suns warm the roof of his mud palace or sinketh deeper within from the nipping frosts of winter

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    The English language is beautiful isn't it, +1 :) – Encryption Oct 1 '13 at 13:27
  • (I've sent these antedatings to the OED.) – Hugo Oct 1 '13 at 13:36
  • Last one could be from a Nigella cookbook – mplungjan Oct 1 '13 at 13:57

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