Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Happy as Larry

I watch a lot of British TV, especially in the summer when the TV networks in the U.S. are largely on hiatus. My latest viewing: Broadchurch, Doc Martin, The Tunnel and The Great British Baking Show. I talked about my obsession with GBBS awhile back on Type M. You can read about that here.

I find the differences between American and British English endlessly fascinating so, as I watch, I collect words and phrases that aren’t normally used here in the U.S. Or at least I’ve never heard them. I can generally figure out what they mean from context, but not always. Here are a few I found particularly interesting:

Happy as Larry – I’ve heard ‘happy as a lark’ and ‘happy as a clam’, but never anything to do with someone named Larry. Just who is this Larry and why is he so happy?

Most comments on this expression reference the Australian boxer Larry Foley (1847-1917) who never lost a fight. When he retired at 32, he collected a purse of 1,000 pounds for his final fight and professed to being happy with his lot. This is about the time the phrase is first cited. There’s another suggestion that it comes from an Australian and New Zealand term larrikin, a name for a street rowdy or young urban hooligan from the 1860s or so. I prefer the boxer reference so that’s what I’m going with.

Keep your hair on – I heard this one on the second season of the The Tunnel. In the U.S., I hear “keep your shirt on”, but I’ve never heard anything about keeping hair on. They both mean remain calm and stop being so angry about something. I have to admit, I prefer “don’t get your knickers in a twist”, which I gather is another Britishism. I don’t remember where I heard or read this one, but it’s something I’ve used for a long time.

Drive a coach and horses through... Apparently, this means to completely destroy something, a plan, a rule, a life. The early uses seem to be regarding legislation where someone has found a hole so large you could figuratively drive a coach and horses through it, thus rendering it useless. Someone in The Tunnel said he felt like someone had “driven a coach and horses through his life”.

Sleep for England – From the context, I assumed this meant slept a long time or very soundly. From what I’ve read online it means that if there were an English national sleeping team, the person would be on it. I gather there are other variants such as “drink for England”

Another one I heard was “what it says on the 10”. I couldn’t find out anything about this one and I couldn’t really figure it out from the context. Did I hear it wrong? Anybody have any idea what it means?

My favorite expression of all time, though, comes from the American south: “Madder than a mosquito in a mannequin factory.” One of these days I’ll figure out how to get that one in a story

Type M readers, do you have any favorite expressions?


Aline Templeton said...

Happy to help, Sybil.It's not 'what it says on the 10, it's 'What it says on the tin.' There was a very popular ad for Ronseal (a preservative paint for fences etc) and that was their slogan. It means that whatever it is, or who ever it is, just straightforwardly delivers as promised.

Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks, Aline. I had a feeling I heard that wrong. Now it makes much more sense to me. Those pesky accents sometimes trip me up!

Donna S said...

Hi Sybil:
I always liked "as busy as a one-armed paperhanger". It always makes me smile to think of it.

Sybil Johnson said...

Hi Donna, I haven't heard that expression. That one's very cool.

Vicki Delany said...

My dad always said, "now you're cooking with gas." to mean something was going well. I am a Canadian writing a series about an Englishwoman living in the US. Sometimes, I get really mixed up in my words and phrases.