A Chip On Your Shoulder


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 when someone feels like they have been wronged and they remain upset over it.

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.)

Synonyms / Similar: foaming at the mouth, having a bone to pick, up in arms

Having a chip on your shoulder - angry man.

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.

Timber can be clunky to move around due to its size, so to make things easier, a person might lift it up onto one of their shoulders and carry it that way. By doing this, they would quite literally have chips (of wood) on their shoulder. However, this phrase did not originate simply from people carrying around wood. You see, anger and violence were also involved. Listen to this:

Apparently there was a time when people 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 this old practice is where the phrase originates from.

Tip: People use phrases every day in conversations. For a list of English phrases starting with “A” that are commonly used, tap the menu at the top.

Example Sentences

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 had a chip on her shoulder after a friend told a joke at her expense.