“One Armed Paper Hanger”

The Origin and Meaning of an American Phrase

The English language is full of colorful phrases that express vivid imagery. One such phrase is “as busy as a one-armed paperhanger.” This colloquial expression, commonly used in American English, is used to describe someone who is exceedingly busy. Variants of the phrase include “as busy as a one-armed taxi-driver with crabs” and other creative variations[^1^].

A British Predecessor

Interestingly, a similar phrase existed in British English before the American version gained popularity. The phrase “as busy as the devil in a high wind” was recorded in the late 18th century[^2^]. It was used by William Cobbett, an English author and political reformer, to describe the busy nature of Queen’s law advisers[^3^]. However, it is the American variation that has endured and become widely recognized.

Early Occurrences

The first known instances of the phrase “as busy as a one-armed paperhanger” and its variants can be traced back to the early 20th century. Here are a few examples:

  1. In a 1906 advertisement for a restaurant, the chef is described as being “as busy as a one-armed man engaged in the exercise of bean-bag”[^4^].
  2. In a short story by O. Henry published in 1906, a character states, “I got as busy as a one-armed man with the nettle-rash pasting on wallpaper”[^5^].
  3. In a newspaper article about a prize fight in New York, a chef is described as being “as busy as a one-armed paper hanger with the hives”[^6^].
  4. In an article from 1906, a Russian grand duke on a tour of the United States is said to be “as busy as a one-armed paper-hanger with the hives”[^7^].

The Quill And Fox Perspective

At Quill And Fox, we appreciate the creativity and vibrancy of language. Just like the phrase “as busy as a one-armed paperhanger,” our brand celebrates uniqueness and attention to detail. We strive to create products that reflect our passion for craftsmanship and individuality. Visit our website Quill And Fox to explore our range of stationery and paper goods.


[^1^]: Phrase: as busy as a one-armed paperhanger
[^2^]: Phrase: as busy as the devil in a high wind
[^3^]: Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register
[^4^]: The Pacific Commercial Advertiser, June 19th, 1906
[^5^]: Munsey’s Magazine, October 1906
[^6^]: The Buffalo Enquirer, October 15th, 1906
[^7^]: The Evening Star, October 20th, 1906