Thursday, October 22, 2009

Smile for Similes-Honk if You can Explain

As happy as a clam
As dead as a doornail
As pleased as punch
As mad as a hatter
As poor as a church mouse

While I know what we mean when we use these similes in everyday speech, I wonder about the hidden meaning in them. Anybody out there have a clue?

I think the 'pleased as punch' probably refers to the famous puppet of Punch and Judy fame. In his British manifestation, Punch often punctuated his statements with a gleeful cackle, thus pleased as Punch. At least that's what I think.

But where in the world did 'as mad as a hatter' originate? And how come a church mouse has less money than a city mouse...since when did mice ever have any money? Who says clams are happy? And how can a doornail be dead?


  1. Oh, my goodness, now you are going to make my brain start pondering, no easy task but I shall try. If I come up with anything, I will come back and offer my opinions, for what they are worth.

  2. Hatters are mad because of the mercury they used in their craft. The smiling clam is due solely to autistics for they appear to be smiling from ear to ear.
    The rest I could only guess at so Good menial health to you until next time.

  3. I can answer whereas "Mad as a hatter" came from....when hats were handmade in the 1800's from felt, the process often incurred using mercury. The toxic mercury was absorbed into the bloodstream, and affected the nervous systems of hatters, causing them to tremble and appear insane.

  4. Stevie, here's a fun web site that gives the "meaning and origins of phrases"

  5. I am not sure about the rest, but mad hatters were actually mad as they used to get mercury poisoning. Mercury was used in the process of curing felt in some hats, and the hatters inhaled the mercury fumes.;) I know this from the Irishman.;)

  6. Mad as a hatter might be from Alice in Wonderland .. aha someone provided a link .. off I go!

  7. Well, I don't know about all of those, but the one that's always driven me nuts is from my Alabama grandmother..."as happy as a dead pig in the sunshine..."

  8. LOL I think we now have the hat thing down pat. but it's like nursery rhymes and all the meanings behind those.

    weird how it happens

  9. A smiling clam refers to autistics because they smile from ear to ear? I don't get that at all. Who says they smile from ear to ear....or constantly? I'm going to look that one up.....

  10. According to, the complete expression is "happy as a clam at high tide". It goes on to say...

    .... Anyone who has ever hunted for clams knows they must be dug when the tide is low. They’re almost impossible to find in high tide, and it would be dangerous to venture too far out into deep water. Thus a clam can said to be quite happy at high tide, since it’s in no danger, at least from humans, of being made into a meal.....

    so there you have it!

  11. I need to loan you my word origins book. But there are some wonderful websites, too. I'm mad as a hatter for etymology!

  12. Thanks for the info guys! I knew there was an explanation out there. People don't just start saying wacko things out of the blue...well, they don't unless they are as mad as a hatter.....those poor hatters, sacrificing their sanity for fashion....I suppose the hat makers that managed to escape madness were as happy as the proverbial clam in high tide.

    Bada bing bada boom!

  13. Yes, as mad as a hatter, I think, refers to The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland... :)

  14. I'm still pondering on the mouse thing ...!!


  15. ...the church mouse only gets crumbs on potluck night. The rest of the time it's pretty scarce around a church.

    Love your drawings! Charming. :)


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