Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What if I told you…

...that to me a most wonderful day is the most simplest. I’ve come to really enjoy my little apartment with its antique table, green placemats, and even the terribly uncomfortable chairs from Ikea. Not even the small cushions from Ikea seem to help the horrible little chairs, but I wouldn't trade them.

I was sitting sometime in the early afternoon with the windows open, Gershwin playing on the stereo, a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese before me and a wonderful book open on the table. I clearly recall saying out loud, “I’m as happy as a clam.” I also remember quite quickly thinking, “What did I just say?” And then, “What does it mean to be as happy as a clam?” So then my perfectly wonderful day took me exploring and here is what I found.

An early version is 'as happy as a clam at high water'. Clams are free from the attentions of predators at high tide, so perhaps that's a reason to consider them happy then. The earliest known citation doesn't mention water though. That's in Harvardiana, 1834:
"That peculiar degree of satisfaction, usually denoted by the phrase 'as happy as a clam'."
John G. Saxe, the American writer best known for his poem The Blind Men and the Elephant, used the phrase in his Sonnet to a Clam, in the late 1840s:

Inglorious friend! most confident I am
Thy life is one of very little ease;
Albeit men mock thee with their similes,
And prate of being "happy as a clam!"
What though thy shell protects thy fragile head
From the sharp bailiffs of the briny sea?
Thy valves are, sure, no safety-valves to thee,
While rakes are free to desecrate thy bed,
And bear thee off, - as foemen take their spoil,
Far from thy friends and family to roam;
Forced, like a Hessian, from thy native home,
To meet destruction in a foreign broil!
Though thou art tender, yet thy humble bard
Declares, O clam! thy case is shocking hard!

The phrase originated in the US and possibly before 1834. In 1848 the Southern Literary Messenger - Richmond, Virginia expressed the opinion that the phrase "is familiar to everyone". Copyright © Gary Martin, 1996 - 2008

Now aided with the rightful origin of the phrase, I felt equipped to reassess the situation. My plate empty of all lunch remnants, I still declared myself to be quite content. I poured a glass of water and then remembered to water my plants. Their deaths would not have made for the most wonderful of days. I took the water and my book out onto the porch. And as I suspected, the sun of Arizona did not disappoint.

A grilled cheese, the book, the uncomfortable chair, and the sun…that’s all it really takes for me. I suppose I’m destined to be a clam then.

No comments: