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.
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.
Depending on the length and weight of a piece of timber, it can be clunky to move around. So to make things easier, people place the timber on their shoulders and carry it that way. But besides making the wood easier to carry around, there was another reason people carried chips on their shoulders—a more violent reason. 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?
- Ethan told a joke about Rachel to her coworkers and since then she’s had a chip on her shoulder.