Green’s Dictionary of Slang

busy as... adj.

in a variety of comparative phr.; see also specific uses below.

[US]Opelousas Courier (LA) 10 Aug.2/4: I found Buck cleanin off his corn land [...] as busy as a thousand bees in one tar bucket.
[US]‘The Festive Lumber-Jack’ in F. Rickaby Ballads and Songs of the Shanty-Boy (1926) 97: He’s as busy as a bed bug.
[US]T.A. Dorgan Indoor Sports 26 Apr. [synd. cartoon] He’s as busy as a one-eyed dog in a sausage store.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 40: busy as [...] a one-eyed cat watching two rat holes Decidedly busy. ANZ. [Ibid.] 130: looks like a one-armed taxidriver with crabs Very busy.
[US] B. Zimmer posting at ADS-L 26 June [Internet] The ‘Canonical List Of Language Humor’ maintained by the rec.humor newsgroup in the mid-’90s included these similes: Busier than a cat covering shit on a hot tin roof. Busier than a centipede at a toe countin’ contest. [...] Busier than a one-eyed cat watching nine mouseholes. Busier than a set of jumper cables at a Mexican wedding.
P. Skandera Phraseology and Culture in Eng. 252: busy as a blowie at a barbie .

In phrases

busy as a nailor (adj.)

(orig. US) extremely busy.

Ottowa Free Trader (IL) 22 May 1/2: Lieut. Asby was as busy as a nailor [...] He kept dashing about.
Jackson Standard (OH) 2 Aug. 2/2: We found Mr Andrews as busy as a nailor waiting upon a very large number of customers.
[US]Nebraska Advertiser 13 Sept. 1/5: Rose was busy as a nailor [...] and hence got small chance to gossip.
[UK]Northern Whig 7 Aug. 6/1: ‘As busy as a nailor’.
Republican News Item (Laport, PA) 17 Aug. 2/2: She was busy as a nailor over her preparations.
[US]Audubon Co. Jrnl (Exira, LA) 30 May 5/2: Our young friend Arnold was busy as a nailor [...] but took time to give us a pleasant greeting.
busy as a one-armed paper-hanger (adj.) (also busy as a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad, ...a one-armed guy buttoning his glove, …one-armed man with the nettle rash, a one-eared telephone operator)

(orig. Aus./US) extremely busy; often ext. by with crabs/hives or with an itch; ad hoc vars. exist; also used in phr. like a one-armed paper-hanger.

[US]T.A. Dorgan in Zwilling TAD Lex. (1993) 22: It was one of those lightning-like affairs in which both men worked so fast that you are even busier than the one armed paper hanger who had the hives.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘The Ethics of Pig’ in Gentle Grafter (1915) 235: I got busy as a one-armed man with the nettle-rash.
[Aus]Nat. Advocate (Bathurst) 29 May 4/1: Cyril, the bookkeeper, was busier than a one-armed paperhanger with the hives, three days behind with his books .
[US]T.A. Dorgan Indoor Sports 5 Mar. [synd. cartoon] He’s as busy as a one-armed club swinger with the poison ivy.
A. Baer Training Camp 1 Mar. [synd. col.] Mike is busier than a one-armed paperhanger with an extravagant wife.
[Aus]Queenslander (Brisbane) 16 Mar. n.p.: For three weeks the old gentleman was as busy as the proverbial one-armed paper hanger with the itch.
A. Baer Speaking of Beauty 28 Aug. [synd. col.] America is busier than a one-eared telephone operator.
[US]Jerry on the Job [comic strip] I’m as busy as a one-armed guy buttoning his glove.
[US](con. 1899) H.P. Bailey Shanghaied Out of Frisco 64: Busy? Why, I am thet goldarn busy, I—I’m busy as a one-armed paperhanger with an itchy armpit.
[US]Wood & Goddard Dict. Amer. Sl. 10: busy as a one-armed paper-hanger with the barber’s itch. Very busy.
[Aus]Cessnock Eagle (NSW) 13 July 5/2: It may be truthfully said that Charlie was as busy as a one-armed paper-hanger with the hives.
[US]J. Held Jr ‘Merely Margy’ [comic strip] Not a chance. I’m as busy as a one-armed paper-hanger.
[UK]Eve. News 1 Aug. 6/5: One thing is certain, and that is that the Commissioner, for the next six months, is going to be busier than a one-armed paper-hanger with the itch.
[Aus]Townsville Dly Bulletin (Qld) 5 May 8/5: [T]he latter being as busy as a one-arm paper-hanger with prickly heat.
[Aus]Truth (Brisbane) 2 June 2/3: As energetic as a one-armed paper hanger with the itch. Ted Fordyce rattled Rosante into giving of his very best.
[Aus]Truth (Brisbane) 21 Dec. 2/3: [They] had to resort to ‘Shanks’ Pony’ and foot-slog it to the Valley, where tram conductors were kept as busy as one-armed paper-hangers suffering from prickly heat.
[US]W.R. Burnett Asphalt Jungle in Four Novels (1984) 201: Busy as one-armed paper-hangers right now.
[Aus]Brisbane Teleg. 29 Apr. 12/3: ‘As busy as a one-armed paper-hanger with an itch ‘might well describe the activities of timpanist Ralph Benfell .
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 112: Nine-thirty in the morning saw me as busy as a one-armed man with the itch.
[Aus]Advertiser (Adelaide) 7 Dec. 1/6: We were busier than a battalion of one-armed paper hangers.
[NZ]G. Slatter Gun in My Hand 147: I been busy as a one-armed paper-hanger.
[US]M. Braly On the Yard (2002) 28: Hell, I had to hustle like a one-armed paperhanger to keep myself straight.
[Aus]Aus. Women’s Wkly 28 Aug. 110/3: You can plan to be as busy as a one-armed paper-hanger with the itch, but if no one really cares if you do it or not, it is all valueless.
[US]R. Coover Public Burning (1979) 407: I been busy as a one-armed paperhanger with the nettle rash.
[Aus]D. Maitland Breaking Out 276: The Reverend, here, has worked like a bloody one-armed paper hanger to turn this place into something fit for human beings.
[Aus]Canberra Times (ACT) 22 June 29/4: An extended version of the simile offered last week about the one armed paper-hanger is ‘as busy as a one-armed paperhanger with the hives’.
[US] in Maledicta VIII 240: He was busier than a one-armed paperhanger with crabs.
[Aus]R.G. Barrett You Wouldn’t Be Dead for Quids (1989) 46: Sally was going at it busier than a one-armed paper hanger with the crabs.
B. Hudson First Aus. Dict. Vulgarities & Obscenities n.p.: One-armed. Indicating frenetic activity: (1) Busy as a one-armed (wall) paper hanger. (2) Busy as a one-armed taxi driver with crabs.
[Aus]Sun-Herald (Sydney) 16 Aug. 25: She says she’s busier than a one-armed paper hanger.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 40: busy as a one-armed paperhanger with crabs [ibid.] 130: looks like a one-armed taxidriver with crabs Very busy.
K. Richards Aussie Bible 36: At the time Jesus was busy healing - busy as a one-armed paper-hanger in a gale - dealing with every kind of sickness in the medical dictionary.
[US] B. Zimmer posting at ADS-L 26 June [Internet] The ‘Canonical List Of Language Humor’ maintained by the rec.humor newsgroup in the mid-’90s included these similes: [...] Busy as a one-armed wallpaper hanger with the crabs.
Blokey Shed 22 Sept. [Internet] Classic lines [...] Busy as a one armed paper hanger with crabs.
[Aus]N. Cummins Tales of the Honey Badger [ebook] I was busier than a one-armed bicklayer in Baghdad.
busy as a one-legged... (adj.)

extremely busy.

[US](con. 1967) P. Conroy Lords of Discipline 407: I’ve been as busy as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.
[US](con. 1940s–60s) Décharné Straight from the Fridge Dad 4: As busy as a one-legged tapdancer Extremely busy.
posting at iagora.com 30 Apr. [Internet] I grew up in country Victoria and I used to love spending time with my friends who lived out on farms. Their fathers would constantly entertain us with their colourful expressions. One of my all time favourites is [...] ‘He’s as busy as a one legged bloke in an arse kicking contest.’.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 40: looks like a one-legged man at an arse-kickers’ party Uncomfortable. ANZ.
[US] B. Zimmer posting at ADS-L 26 June [Internet] The ‘Canonical List Of Language Humor’ maintained by the rec.humor newsgroup in the mid-’90s included these similes: Busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. [...] Busy as a one-legged cat trying to bury shit on a frozen pond.
busy as the devil in a high wind (adj.)

very busy.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: Busy. As Busy as the Devil in a high wind.
[UK]Gentleman’s Mag. Mar. 228/1: ‘As busy as the Devil in a high wind’ [...] is an adage of probably much greater antiquity than the legend of Saint Michael, and originated in the generally-received opinion of the Devil being author of all mischief.
Cobbett’s Weekly Register 1 Oct. 20: The Scotch feelosofers have been busy as the devil in a high wind to counteract the effect of this opinion.
Margueritte, Counter of Blessington Honey-Moon & Other Tales I 161: Och, sure, I was as busy as the devil in a high wind.
W. Watts Yahoo 33: [note] Teaching the poor to read so generally has cut out plenty of employment for the spiritual sowgelders, who are now as busy as the Devil in a high wind.