‘Happy’ itself derives from the Old Norse word ‘happ’ meaning luck and chance which eventually broadened to mean pleased and joyous. But what about common idioms that use ‘happy’?
‘Happy as a clam’ – there are two ideas as to where this phrase comes from. Firstly, when clams are partially open people have said that they resemble a smile. However, chances are the phrase comes from the second idea: that it’s a shortening of the sayings ‘happy as a clam at high water’ and ‘happy as a clam in mud’ which were both used by the mid-1800s.
‘Happy hour’ is a designated time set by drinking establishments. Yet ‘happy’ started to be linked to alcohol and drinking in the 1600s. The idiom has nautical origins. In the American Navy, the happy hour was a time aboard vessels when the crew were able to relax and enjoy recreational and entertainment activities. It since spread to bars, pubs and clubs on land across the globe. The phrase ‘a happy ship’ is still in use and derives from the same idea.
‘Happy as Larry’ – who was Larry? Etymologists believe there are two plausible theories both of which are linked to Australia. The first refers to the undefeated middleweight Australian boxer Larry Foley who is known as the father of Australian boxing. He lived between 1849 – 1917 and retired at 32 and collected £1000 (a lot of money in those days) for his final fight (making him very happy indeed). The second theory links to a British dialect word ‘larry’ which meant a state of excitement or happiness. It was used enough to feature in some of the novels by Thomas Hardy. Etymologists also believe ‘larry’ is linked to ‘larrikin’ which is a boisterous, often badly behaved youth, mainly young men. So it’s also plausible ‘happy as Larry’ was inspired by that sense of being carefree and without constraint. I stressed that ‘larry’ came from Britain but the word travelled over to Australia when convicts were sent there in the eighteenth century.
‘Happy as a sand boy’ – originates from when men would dig sand from pits on Hampstead Heath and sell it to taverns to soak up alcohol. So ‘happy’ here probably links to the frivolity from being in contact with spilt alcohol.
‘Happy go lucky’ – meaning cheerful and unconcerned.
‘Happy camper’ – has links to soldiers. Today it means a person who is content and satisfied. The word ‘camper’ originally referred to a soldier in the 1600s. It has become more generic over the centuries and by the mid-1800s meant someone who camps recreationally and for fun. The phrase ‘happy camper’ emerged after the American Scouts started to use the slogan ‘every scout [is] a happy camper’ in the 1930s. For some unknown reason, usage of the phrase skyrocketed in the 1980s.