“Chopping at the Bit”

I may have spoken too soon with yesterday’s post. I just heard an ESPN commentator say an athlete was “chopping at the bit.” (You may well ask why I was watching ESPN. If you know me, you know it’s a rather odd pairing. Blame it on Mom and her obsession with tennis.)

Most people would recognize that he was wrong, believing that he meant to say “chomping at the bit.”

But even they would be wrong. It is “CHAMPING at the bit.”

To champ is to bite or chew upon noisily, or to work the jaws and teeth vigorously, the way a horse often does with a bit in its mouth. To chomp is to bite down hard on something (a dog chomping on a child’s arm), and when it is used as a dialectal variant of champ, to chew noisily or repeatedly (a man chomping on a cigar).

It started out as “to champer at the bit” and was an old horseracing term. Over the years it was shortened to “champ.” And, through misuse, to “chomp.”

In a similar fashion, “My old stamping ground” has also become “stomping.” The stamping ground on a farm was where the chickens and roosters gathered, ate and… you know.

I guess it could be worse. An acquaintance someone in a meeting say, “We’re beating a dead corpse here!” And the governor of New Jersey released a statement that said they were going to “pour through” suggestions from citizens, and “reign in” spending.

If I keep gnashing my teeth this way, pretty soon I’ll need dentures.

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Categories: Humor, Words | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on ““Chopping at the Bit”

  1. indigo bunting

    Whenever I have to edit/use this term, I always look it up. And it happened recently. I have to be absolutely sure it’s champing, and guess what? It always is. Although it’s rarely that way in the original text.

    See also fellow blogger’s post:

    http://maliatoz.blogspot.com/2008/05/z-zealous.html

  2. Ooh, that’s a lovely post from Mali! Thanks for linking to it.

  3. I must admit, posts of this type are my favorite. It is wonderful to know someone else shares my ire. Though, I fear, looking to change the way people misuse words and old metaphors so worn they have become unclear, archaic cliches (let alone asking them to use them correctly) is, clearly, beating that dead corpse.

    I think we should decimate them. And I mean that in the correct use. That’ll make them think twice.

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