Why do we say ‘happy as Larry’?

Australia regularly tops polls of the world’s happiest countries – so it makes sense that the Larry we keep being told is so happy may be an Aussie...

19th-century boxer Larry Foley

Whether we’re ‘pleased as Punch’ or ‘happy as Larry’, we seem perfectly satisfied comparing our own happiness to people whose identity we’re not even sure of. So, do we know who this Larry was, and why he was so happy?

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The most likely candidate is Larry Foley, an Australian boxer born in the mid 19th century. And Foley had plenty to be happy about, as the prize-winning pugilist never lost a fight and he played a big part in introducing gloves to the sport.

In 1879, Foley won the Australian championship by defeating Abe Hicken, bare-knuckled, in 16 rounds – a victory that pocketed Foley a handsome £600. Some accounts claim that after the fight, he was quoted as saying he was very happy with the fight – not that suprising really. This quote allegedly appeared in newspaper reports along with a description of the crowds who witnessed the bout as being “as happy as Larry”.

For those who think that sounds a little too neat, there is a second explanation for the phrase. At the same time that Foley was fighting, the slang term ‘larrikin’ was well used in Australia and New Zealand for a happy-go-lucky, yobbish teen. So it’s possible that these ruffian types – who were a bit too happy with themselves – could be referred to as ‘Larrys’.

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This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine