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The meaning and origin of the expression: As busy as a one-armed paperhanger

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As busy as a one-armed paperhanger

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'As busy as a one-armed paperhanger'?

The simile 'as busy as a one-armed paperhanger' means 'frenetically busy'.

What's the origin of the phrase 'As busy as a one-armed paperhanger'?

The expression 'as busy as a one-armed paperhanger' sounds as though it may be quite a recent phrase. In fact, it dates from the early 1900s and was coined in the USA.

As busy as a one-armed paperhangerOf course, papering a wall using only one hand is the epitomy of busyness - despite the posed picture shown here, which shows a one-armed paperhanger of extreme sedateness.

Most of the early examples of the phrase in print use a longer form of the expression - 'as busy as a one-armed paperhanger with the hives'. That longer variant with is the one used in what is the earliest example of the phrase that I can find - from The Washington newspaper The Evening Star, October 1906:

The next man up at the cashier's window was a Russian grand duke, a spender from way back, a man who on his tour of this country was as busy as a one-armed paper-hanger with the hives just tossing away money.

The expression stayed within the USA for most of the 20th century and is only recently being used worldwide. Other English-speaking countries having stuck with the earlier 'as busy as a bee'.

See other 'as x as y similes'.

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