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Busier Than a One-Armed Paper Hanger and Other Busy Sayings

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Jocelyn in Richmond, Virginia, is curious about the expression busier than a one-armed paper hanger, meaning extremely busy. Perhaps the earliest version of this phrase comes from a 1908 short story by O. Henry: as busy as a one-armed man with the nettle rash pasting on wallpaper, which would be very busy indeed. In other versions, the embattled paper hanger is battling hives, the itch, the crabs, or the seven-year-itch. Other picturesque English phrases for such bustling activity include busy as a beaver, busy as a bee, busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, busier than flies in a tarpit, busier than a bee in a tar bucket, busier than a bee on a buzzsaw, busier than a cranberry merchant, and busier than a one-eyed cat watching three mice holes. Similar phrases mean not busy, such as busier than a pickpocket in a nudist camp, busy as a hen with one chick, busy as a puppy, and busy as a hibernating bear. This is part of a complete episode.

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