March 8, 2006

chomp at the bit

Posted in Idioms at 10:24 am by Feng

chomp at the bit (doing something) — to be eager and not willing to wait to do something [freesearch]

From the rowing captain’s email: “After a successful Lents campaign, I know that many of you are chomping at the bit wanting to get racing again…” It seems debatable whether the right phrase should be “champ at the bit” instead of “chomp at the bit”. I asked an American, and he said he used “chomp at the bit” all the time, but never the other one. Interestingly enough, a British insisted that it should be “champ at the bit“. “Tell your American friend,” she said, “He is wrong.” Of course, she was kidding; either one is right.



  1. Leslea said,

    This comes from horsemanship. When you ride a horse, you use a bridle, which contains a metal bit that lies in the horse’s mouth. If the horse is chomping at the bit, the horse is ready to run!

    I don’t know anyone who says “champ” unless it is short for “champion,” and I live in the Midwestern US.

  2. Tyler Moore said,

    OK I have resolved the confusion: ‘chomp’ is the American spelling, ‘champ’ is the British spelling. I think the pronunciation is the same. It is just particularly confusing since ‘champ’ is a homonym; ‘champ’ is also an abbreviation of ‘champion’.

  3. Feng said,

    >> I think the pronunciation is the same
    really? 😦

  4. Feng said,


    Thanks for the vivid description. It helps a lot memorize this phrase!

  5. jennhx said,

    In some dialects of English, champ and chomp may be pronounced the same, but not in mine (Pacific Northwest)!

  6. Mickster said,

    It’s actually ‘champing’ (rhymes with ‘camping’) but some people pronounce and spell it incorrectly.

  7. Skoob said,

    Although most will agree that they MEAN the same thing, the term has always been “Champing at the bit”. The term has been intermingled as “Chomping” by the uneducated masses trying to sound intelligent. However, becuase they are ignorant of the meaning of the word “Champing” they have substituted the word they know, which is “Chomping”. Similarly, the same people will often use the term “All the sudden” when the term is “All of a sudden”. I could go on for years…. It’s a sad commentary when traditional sayings are bastardized to accomodate the lowest common denominator.

    • stuart said,

      Skoob et al, that would be true if there was one written static, unchanging English, but then again, we’d all be speaking Ye Olde English if that was the case. Language is organic, changing, fluid, and, as Saussure points out, oral. So get off your high horse and buckle your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy linguistic ride.

  8. Idetrorce said,

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  9. J. said,

    It’s champing at the bit. The Midwesterners don’t know how to speak real English and have dumbed down the phrase to their level.

  10. patrick said,

    skoob is dead on!

  11. livewrong said,

    it is not a spelling issue. the proper expression is “champing at the bit”. as skoob said people will substitute words they know. these old idioms get garbled in the mouths of the masses. “champ” has been used since the 1570’s.

    one of my new favorite bastardizations is “a whole nother…” instead of “a whole other” not an idiom but english from the mouths of those who can’t read anyway. a word being said a lot lately is “conversate” instead of “converse”. education is slowly rotting away.

  12. Linda said,

    I had a similar discussion with a friend yesterday (I believed it was “champing”) and consider myself to be well educated plus I do try to preserve grammatical correctness as I too am saddened to see how our language has been bastardised over the years through lack of education and general laziness….ah a soap-box moment narrowly avoided…

    So I looked it up so satisfy myself that I was of course right in my belief 🙂 and found this….

    “Champing at the bit

    If someone is eager or anxious to do something, they are said to be champing at the bit, (not chomping at the bit. nor chomping on the bit).
    CHAMPING: Repetitious, strong opening and closing action of the mouth which produces sounds when the teeth hit together. Champing in swine may be a threat signal, but also is performed by boars during courtship and
    mating. Definition from Hurnik et al., 1995.

    – The Encyclopedia of Farm Animal Behavior
    v. tr. – To bite or chew upon noisily.
    v. intr. – To work the jaws and teeth vigorously.
    Idiom: – champ at the bit
    To show impatience at being held back or delayed.

    – The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. ”


  13. BitChamper said,

    Dudes, language evolves… when enough people use chomp then chomp becomes “correct”…

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