Who Is Larry And Why Is He Happy?

NZ Today - - TALKBACK -

How of­ten have you used a phrase and then thought where on earth did that come from? I am go­ing to re­lieve you of the stress of go­ing onto Google and bring the ori­gin of some of our most com­monly used ex­pres­sions straight into your liv­ing room!

Happy as Larry The most in­ter­est­ing thing that came out of my re­search is that this is an ex­pres­sion of New Zealand or Aus­tralian ori­gin. There are two schools of thought about who Larry was. One school be­lieves it refers to Aus­tralian boxer Larry Fo­ley who had a very suc­cess­ful and lu­cra­tive ca­reer and so was prob­a­bly very happy with his life in the 1870s, the very time the phrase first came about.

The other school thinks it came from the Cor­nish slang, lar­rikins, al­though a lar­rikin is a bit of a hooli­gan, so it is un­clear why a lar­rikin might be happy. I won­der if the ex­pres­sion happy as Larry is used all around the world in English-speak­ing coun­tries. I think it might be.

The Bee’s Knees I use the phrase the ‘bee’s knees’ a lot, but I have never both­ered be­fore to find out why the knees of bees are so spe­cial, so we are both about to find out.

Un­for­tu­nately it is not as in­ter­est­ing or in­trigu­ing as I had hoped. Ap­par­ently it first came to the fore in the late 18th century when it was used to de­fine some­thing in­signif­i­cant or small, in stark con­trast to its cur­rent mean­ing.

Its present use to de­scribe some­thing as awe­some came in the early 20th century, where the ‘bee’s knees’ joined the ‘flea’s eye­brows’ and ‘cat’s whiskers’ to de­scribe some­thing out­stand­ing. Go fig­ure.

Mad as a Hat­ter I had al­ways thought that this phrase (which means some­one is per­haps a bit cuckoo) came from the Mad Hat­ter in Lewis Car­roll’s Alice in Won­der­land, but in fact Lewis Car­roll used what was al­ready a phrase in com­mon use to cre­ate his char­ac­ter.

In the 18th and 19th cen­turies milliners or hat mak­ers used felt for their cre­ations and in those days mer­cury was used to make this felt. While we now know how toxic this metal is, 200 years ago it wasn’t known and the hap­less hat mak­ers would in­hale this sub­stance and un­for­tu­nately face a va­ri­ety of ail­ments in­clud­ing shak­ing, anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and slurred speech. This came to be known as ‘Mad Hat­ters Syn­drome’ and ul­ti­mately ‘Mad as a Hat­ter’.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.