A Chip On Your Shoulder

If you’ve found yourself feeling bitter about a past experience, then you might have had a ‘chip on your shoulder.’ No, we’re not talking about a literal chip. Let’s dive into this phrase to see what it actually means.

Having a chip on your shoulder - angry man.


To carry resentment or hostility towards others. The phrase a chip on your shoulder means to have feelings of anger or bitterness due to a perceived slight. It implies that someone is resentful about a past experience, and they are holding a grudge.

Example: “He had a chip on his shoulder ever since a coworker ate his lunch from the fridge without permission.”

Key Points
1. The phrase ‘a chip on your shoulder’ refers to a feeling of anger towards someone or something.
2. This feeling can come from a perceived injustice or insult that the person has experienced.
3. Instead of letting go of these emotions, the person involved holds on to them.

Synonyms: blow a fuse, foaming at the mouth, have a bone to pick, have an axe to grind, hold a grudge, seeing red, up in arms

Examples: A Chip On Your Shoulder

We can get a better understanding of this phrase by seeing how it’s used in the following examples.


1. “I hope you don’t have a chip on your shoulder over being the last pick for the team.”
2. “They all had chips on their shoulders from not being invited to a social event.”
3. “She has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to her intelligence, and she often feels the need to prove herself to others.”

Now, here are some more examples, but this time, the saying will be replaced with synonymous phrases:


1. “He was up in arms when the boss didn’t give him the promotion he was expecting.”
2. “She has an axe to grind with the bugs outside because they keep ruining the plants in her yard.”
3. “When they saw the damage to their car, they were seeing red and wanted to know who was responsible.”


As is the case with many phrases and sayings, the origin of the phrase ‘a chip on your shoulder’ is unclear. However, there are details about where it possibly originated from.

The “chip” mentioned in this phrase refers, not to potato chips, but to a piece of timber or wood. Sometimes, people carry timber on their shoulders to transport it from one location to another. By doing this, they would literally have a chip on their shoulder, as the saying goes. However, what does having ‘a chip on your shoulder’ have to do with anger?

Well, it’s possible that this phrase originates from a time where people would put a chip (of wood) on their shoulder and dare others to knock it off. If someone accepted the challenge, a fight would ensue shortly after.

This sort of behavior was described in a few 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.