An Epically Bad Cut

An every-day expression offers a fabulous glimpse into how a mindless decision to shorten something turned it from brilliant to drivel. The expression is, “happy as a clam.” There is nothing whatsoever happy about a clam, and yet the phrase has insinuated itself into the language. It’s a mystery, and like all good mysteries, if you solve it, you have a wonderful revelation. The original expression was “happy as a clam at high tide,” which is wonderfully wry and clever. It invites the reader to become a party to the joke, deducing that a clam must indeed be thrilled at high tide. Well, as thrilled as a creature who lives in muck and filters dirty water for a living can be. By comparison, anyway. Because at low tide, as everyone knows, oysters are exposed to humans, who delight in plucking them from the muck, frying them up and slurping them down. Some editor somewhere in the pre-history of editing thought he could save a few words by cutting the “at high tide” from the statement. That editor was stupid as a clam.

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