If you have a chip on your shoulder, it means you feel angry because someone mistreated you; holding a grudge.
This common phrase is used to describe people who remain upset over grievances they’ve had in the past.
Example: Alex had a chip on his shoulder ever since one of his coworkers stole his lunch out of the fridge and ate it without his permission. (In other words, Alex was angry at his coworker ever since this incident.)
The Origin Of “A Chip On Your Shoulder”
What does it mean to have a chip on your shoulder? The ‘chip’ mentioned in this phrase does not refer to potato chips, as if someone is walking around with a bag of baked potatoes on their shoulder. No, the ‘chip’ here actually refers to a piece of timber, or wood.
People carry timber on their shoulders because it’s easier to move it around like that. Yes, depending on its length and weight, timber can be clunky to move from place to place. So using our shoulders instead of with our hands is usually the way to go. But besides this, there was actually another reason people would carry chips on their shoulders—a more violent one at that. Listen to this:
Apparently there was a time when people (who were angry, by the sounds of it) would literally place a chip on their shoulder. The reason? To show others that they were looking for a fight. Indeed, with the wood placed firmly on one of their shoulders, they would dare others to knock it off. Anyone who wanted to accept the proposed challenge could do so, and a fight would occur afterwards.
This sort of behavior was described in some newspapers from the 19th century. For example, the Long Island Telegraph newspaper, printed on May 20th, 1830, wrote:
“When two churlish boys were determined to fight, a chip would be placed on the shoulder of one, and the other demanded to knock it off at his peril.”
Another example from the same year is written in the Onondaga Standard of Syracuse, New York, 1830:
“‘He waylay me’, said I, ‘the mean sneaking fellow – I am only afraid that he will sue me for damages. Oh! if I only could get him to knock a chip off my shoulder, and so get round the law, I would give him one of the soundest thrashings he ever had.'”
So it would seem that this is where the phrase originates from.
Here are two examples of this idiom being used in a sentence:
- Do you still have a chip on your shoulder because of what happened last week?
- Rachel still has a chip on her shoulder because her friend embarrassed her in front of her coworkers.