chip on shoulder

chip on shoulder


  • holding a grudge or grievance
  • a perceived sense of inferiority
  • being angry because of something that happened in the past
  • habitually combative attitude
  • take offence easily


  1. He’s always picking up fights with everyone. He seems to have a chip on his shoulder.
  2. He has a chip on his shoulder for not being born into a rich family.
  3. She still seems to have a chip on her shoulder about the argument she had with her friend last week.
  4. He has a chip on his shoulder for not being invited to the party.
  5. Why do you get so aggressive at the slightest hint of criticism? You seem to have a chip on your shoulder.
  6. He was not very cared for as a child, and he has a chip on his shoulder about his upbringing.
  7. She has a chip on her shoulder about not getting admission into that university.
  8. One of my colleagues is always arguing with everyone. I think he has a chip on his shoulder.

This phrase originated in the USA in the 1800s. It refers to a practice where people who were looking for a physical fight would place a chip of wood on their shoulders, challenging others to knock it off.

C 4 Thoughts

4 Thoughts

There’s no evidence the phrase dates back before the 19th century, hence the American etymology is probably the correct one here.

- Graeme Cheadle June 30, 2021

@Hayden Of course it wasn’t as we all thought, and of course the Brits had to create a super convoluted expression. “The joys of” learning English, “as it were”.

- Simon April 19, 2021

It is actually older than that and came from England in the 1600. English ship laborers were allowed to bring home left over wood ships as part of their wages. When this was taken away the workers went on strike and walked away with bags of the wood chips. Hence chip on the shoulder.

- Hayden April 2, 2021

Such a clear explanation! Thank you

- C. P. December 14, 2020

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Idiom of the Day

drastic times call for drastic measures

Meaning: extreme circumstances can only be resolved by equally extreme actions

Example: After the company had posted losses for the third consecutive year, the board decided to replace all of its top management. After all, drastic times call for drastic measures. Read on


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