Who Is Larry And Why Is He Happy?
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’.