Happy-clappy is a neat word. Like another Christianese phrase fundy-dundy, the term happy-clappy is phonetically reduplicative, like other words you may know such as easy-peasy, handy-dandy, namby-pamby, and mimsy-wimsy.
Phonetic reduplicativity not only makes a word fun to say, it also tends to convey an patronizing attitude. Why is that? I suppose because it sounds like baby-talk.
When have you used the word happy-clappy? When have you heard it used?
¹happy-clappy adj. Less commonly: clappy-happy.
1. Energetic and relentlessly upbeat, as applied to some Christians, Christian music styles, and church services—sometimes associated with the evangelical and charismatic movements.
The happy refers to the optimistic (even naive ) attitude, and the clappy probably refers to the style of musical worship during church services.
For example, during the musical part of a church service that some would describe as happy-clappy, one might see Christians waving their arms in the air, smiling broadly, singing loudly, swaying energetically with the music, lifting their heads and closing their eyes, clapping their hands, and dancing about the sanctuary.
The term in this sense became vogue in the U.K. in 1997 when Robert Runcie, former Archbishop of Canterbury, used the clappy-happy variation in an interview (see 1997 cite).
Green (1998) says the term was originally from South Africa.
See also *fundy-dundy; *smells and bells.
• 1984 Drum (Johannesburg, South Africa) 14/1–2 88 : Who would have thought that his mother’s futile efforts to turn him into a happy-clappy Bible thumper would have come in so handy? 1992 Independent (21 Jul.) 17 : Holy Trinity, Brompton, one of the largest happy-clappy (and one of the poshest) churches in London. 1993 Stand Mag. vol. 35 56 : When it comes to the present the poet can also keep her distance, and a poem like ‘A Jolly Good Fellow,’ comparing the clappy-happy view of religion with a traditional sense of reverence, sits oddly with the quiet stoicism which Phoebe Hesketh exhibits in the face of age. 1993 Rees Weary and Ill at Ease: A Survey of Clergy and Organists 143 : How often could we expect to encounter a service with music at a given church? How many people would we find there? Would the music be “ancient” or “modern”? … Would the emphasis of worship best be caricatured as “bells and smells” or “happy-clappy”? 1994 The Am. Organist 28/7-12 14 : Instead, the students go for the “clappy-happy,” the “praise songs,” the “shuffly-bumbly” or “megamall-megachurch” sounds that breed instant intimacy with God, or other, or self. 1997 Runcie in Petre “The Church on Its Knees” Sunday Telegraph (London) (9 Feb.) : “I am temperamentally against those forms of clappy-happy, huggy-feely sorts of worship which seem to reduce God to a puppet.” 1998 Thompson The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium 162 : Services at ‘HTB’ [= Holy Trinity church, Brompton] carried to an extreme the ‘happy clappy’ style characterised by arm-waving, ecstatic smiles and speaking in tongues. 2006 Beaujon Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock 33 : It wasn’t until 1982’s Age to Age that [Amy] Grant came into her own as a performer—songs such as “El Shaddai” and “I Love a Lonely Day” connected on a level beyond what Glenn Kaiser calls “happy-clappy” Christianity.
2. As in: happy-clappy brigade. Being enthusiastic about proselytizing.
• 1992 Sunday Times (London) (8 Mar.) ii. 5/3 : He’s one of the happy-clappy lot. They’re always speaking in tongues, casting out demons and frightening the old ladies. 1994 Barnes “The Modernizer” New Yorker (22 Aug.) 71 : [Blair’s] evangelical language might begin to sound preachy, his talk of crusades and missions a bit too happy-clappy for our jaundiced times.
3. Being fervent in outward display of religion yet shallow, naïve, or vague in one’s beliefs or doctrines.
• 1993 Times (London) (7 Oct.) 37/7 : Is the man at the helm of the church an intelligent, astute leader or a happy-clappy simpleton who will plunge his church into disestablishment? 1999 Comfort How to Win Souls and Influence People 189 : He was no “happy-clappy” superficial Christian. 2000 Kelly Retrofuture: Rediscovering Our Roots, Recharting Our Routes 129 : If there is any gospel that is going to have nothing to say to such a [self-destructive] culture, it is a triumphalistic, escapist easy-believism—the kind detractors call “happy-clappy.” 2001 New Statesman 130/4519-4530 35 : Their happy, clappy Christianity avoids any serious theological debate. 2003 Spencer Playing by the Rules 153 : Mere clappy-happy, fluffy-headedness without a reverent sense of God’s majesty and holiness may lead to emotional outbursts for the mere sake of the feelings that are generated. 2006 Christianity (U.K.) (May) : To the unchurched and people of other faiths, evangelical is increasingly shorthand for … “happy-clappy” simpletons who gullibly swallow whatever their tub thumping minister tells them to believe.
From the adjective *¹happy-clappy.
1. An enthusiastic Christian, especially one easily disposed to proselytizing. There is also the connotation that such a Christian’s religious principles have been deemed shallow, simplistic, or vague.
• 1994 Guardian (20 May) ii. 18/5 : Now Asian families have to live not only in fear of BNP attacks but with the threat of muddled happy-clappies patronising them every week.
2. A member of an evangelical or charismatic church.
• 1990 Malan My Traitor’s Heart ii. 100 : Both were members of the Apostolic Church, happyclappies in South African slang—into the laying on of hands, faith healing, and speaking in tongues. 1991 Daily Telegraph (London) (15 Apr.) 16/2 : Did Archbishop Temple actually say that the Church purely exists for the benefit of non-members? In that case … we might as well all pack up, Happy Clappies and Traditionalists as well. 1998 Brookmyre Not the End 21 : In an ideal world this would still be the AFFM’s parking lot, but Happy Clappies he could live with.
3. A style of worship or a way of doing church that is be described by the adjective *¹happy-clappy (1) above.
• 1993 Independent (26 Feb.) 13 : I can’t believe after all I’ve been through that I actually go to church regularly. I know there’s a lot of teasing about happy-clappy, but this music really gets me going.
clappy-happy adj. Variant of *¹happy-clappy.