Simile – United States of America

Happy as a clam at high tide!

Tracy Mettler states: “I may have first heard this phrase when talking to my mom. We were probably talking about somebody else’s disposition. Instead of just saying that person was so happy or excited [this phrase] seemed to be fitting of their mood. All the clam digging enthusiasts look for indications of a low tide so they can dig their limit of clams. This means that when it’s a high tide, the clams are “happy” that they won’t be dug up and taken to a boiling water bath to eventually be eaten!”

Just as my mother recalls first hearing this from her mother, I think I remember first hearing this phrase from my grandmother as well. Personally, I don’t use this phrase very often. If I do, it’s somewhat jokingly just because it sounds kind of silly. Plus, not everyone will understand what it means for a clam when it’s “high tide.” I do recall hearing my grandmother omit the “at high tide” portion of the phrase from time to time.

Many people have heard the simile “happy as a clam,” but few have heard the latter portion, “at high tide” (according to an informal poll during class). For people unfamiliar with the process of clam digging, the inclusion of “at high tide” has no significance, and if anything makes the phrase a bit confusing due to the lack of meaning. Having the qualifier “at high tide” helps to provide an explanation as to why a clam would be happy. Otherwise, we as humans have no ability to ascertain how a clam would be able to experience happiness. Since high tide keeps the clam from being dug up and eaten, a clam would surely be happy during this tidal situation, if clams could feel emotion.

If we really look into this idea of “high tide” as being a reason for the clam’s alleged happiness, does the simile suggest that the clams are happy as a result of having survived a clam digging expedition? Basically, does this added thought of survival change the meaning of the simile at all? Does it imply that the simile should only be used when referring to a person experiencing relief at having avoided a difficult, potentially dangerous, situation? Generally, when I’ve heard this simile, there hasn’t been any deep thought put into its use, in terms of a person having survived a difficult situation. Mainly, it’s the “happy as a clam” portion that’s important, and the “at high tide” is just thrown in, somewhat as an afterthought.