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Champing at the bit vs. chomping at the bit

One definition of bit is a metal mouthpiece used for controlling a horse, and one definition of champ is to bite or chew noisily. These are the senses meant in the idiom champing at the bit, which refers to the tendency of some horses to chew on the bit when impatient or eager. In its figurative sense, it means to show impatience while delayed, or just to be eager to start.

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The idiom is usually written chomping at the bit, and some people consider this spelling wrong. But chomp can also mean to bite or chew noisily (though chomped things are often eaten, while champed things are not), so chomp at the bit means roughly the same as champ at the bit.

In fact, chomp, which began as a variant of champ, is alive in English while the biting-related sense of champ is dead outside this idiom, so it’s no wonder that chomping at the bit is about 20 times as common as champing at the bit on the web. Champing at the bit can sound funny to people who aren’t familiar with the idiom or the obsolete sense of champ, while most English speakers can infer the meaning of chomping at the bit.


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Still, if you’re writing for school or for readers who are versed in English, champing at the bit is probably the safer choice.

Examples

Both forms are easy to find in edited publications and blogs from throughout the English-speaking world—for example:

As for drama (or tragicomedy, to be more precise) I am champing at the bit for “Waiting for Godot.” [Los Angeles Times]

He was chomping at the bit to get on with implementing his magnificent suite of policies. [Herald Sun]

Another driver who’s champing at the bit to get into action is former V8 champion Booth. [New Zealand Herald]

So I’m not chomping at the bit to double it in a week and a half, when the duo co-host the Oscars. [Guardian]

By nature, young drivers can often be champing at the bit for their turn in these events. [Globe and Mail]

In any case, the photographs … are more than enough to have me chomping at the bit for the February 17th release. [Irish Times]

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Comments

  1. The British will prounounce “champing” in a way that an American will think is spelled “chomping” so this could be the reason for the variation of words.

    • reardensteel says:

      That’s a good point.

      I am always befuddled by Brits’ rendering of the short a.
      There doesn’t seem to be any sort of strict rule on whether they say a (as in slap) or ä (as in mop).

      • Not all of Britain does this, just the south-east area mostly. I say bath and glass with a short a (as in cat), whereas they would say it like (barth) and (glars).

      • We Brits do not use anything other the exact sound of the letter ‘o’ in words spelled with it. we do NOT pronounce ‘mop’ with any rendering of an a – short, long or midget-sized.

        • reardensteel says:

          You did not understand what I was saying.
          The British short o is consistent; it’s the short a that’s not.
          So the words flap, slap, and tap sound similar in American and British renderings.
          However, the British pronounce glass, past, and fast in a way that sounds more like an o to an American ear.
          This is b/c in all of those example words, Americans say the a the same way.

          • oldfella says:

            I don’t know what English people you’ve been listening to. I was born in Scotland, I went to live London when I was five, went to the south East when WW2 was declared, at the age of ten I went to live in Somerset. At the age of eighteen I was called up into the R.A.F in which I served for five years, I married a Yorkshire Lass and went to live in Yorkshire. I now live in Australia another predominately English speaking Nation and I have never heard any one say, gloss or fost when they mean glass and fast. As for past I have never hear anyone say post unless they mean a pole. I don’t know your Ethnicity but perhaps it has something to do with the way you hear things, I am not being disrespectful in saying this because it happens. I spent eleven years as a English Tutor with TAFE working mainly with Asians and I often heard word that were not meant to be heard from students and vice versa. But in the end does it really matter as long as you can communicate an ya cn mak uvers unerstan wot yer meen an at. I fink that’s a bit of cockney bu i duno.

          • reardensteel says:

            Try saying this:

            “In the past, half the Catholic lads ran to catechism class after mass.”

            In American English, every a in that sentence sounds the same.
            In British English (especially RP), they don’t.
            I don’t care how you want to describe the difference in sound, but they are different.

            My original point (which was in no way a criticism, btw) was simply that there doesn’t seem to be a simple rule that dictates which sound a short a has in British pronunciation.

          • oldfella says:

            I’m sorry but I still think you’r wrong in fact I think it is the other way around. Most well spoken Brits I know say dance and chance with the a as ah the Americans don’t. The main occasions the a sounds it’s self is when it’s followed by e.

        • MikeInMaine says:

          Shut up, you stupid Brit. Who asked ya?

          • Agreed. Brits are so damn annoying. And ugly as hell from the previous generations of massive inbreeding.

    • Not true. Champ would be pronounced like lamp or ramp – not like glass or fast.

    • Dan Bradley says:

      Excuse me I am British, Southern-English to be precise, and don’t have a clue how you can think champ could sound like chomp when said in an English accent. Champ is said with the ‘a’ sounding like the ‘a’ in ‘apple’. If that is how American’s pronounce ‘o’s then their accent is even more bizarre than I thought!

      • terry_freeman says:

        I have heard two American pronunciations of “apple” — the first, which seems natural to my ears, pronounces a as in “fast” or “bat” or “cat.” The second is like the o in “opportunity” or “fodder” or “top” – or “chomp.” The word “aunt” in some parts sounds the same as “ant”; in others, it is more like “ont.”

        • LBJ All The Way! says:

          “Ont” is black dialect pronunciation that has been crossing over to the general population. “Ontie” is also a common usage, but that’s pretty much confined to African Americans.

          • Beachgirl247 says:

            People who speak french may also pronounce aunt “ont” because the “au” makes that sound. If it is “ant,” why not get rid of the “u” altogether?

          • Here it comes... says:

            No, in French, ‘au’ is pronounced as an English hard ‘o’…as in ‘bone’.

          • Michael Scott says:

            Agreed. Our new host of CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” pronounces it “Ont”……referring to the sister of his father or mother……but that’s because his dad is/was an African-American. For me……she’s still my ANT. :-)

          • It’s Southern–not necessarily white or black.

          • Ben Griffin says:

            Maybe my memory is inaccurate, but I’m fairly certain ‘Dorothy’ in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was not black.
            I remember her as being mostly grey in Kansas, and a sort of peach – beige in Oz. She repeatedly referred to a female sibling of one of her parents by uttering something that sounds like ‘on-tee em’.
            Your claims about ‘auntie’ being confined to African Americans seem to have been incorrect for quite some time.

        • I’ve never heard two pronunciations of apple in America. I thought “ont” was a British pronunciation.

        • MikeInMaine says:

          You must have been hearing a mentally retarded person mis-pronouncing the word “apple”, because that’s all the way crazy.

          • I’m guessing that where you’re from it’s acceptable to use the word ‘retarded’ in this way. In the civilised world, I have to tell you it really isn’t. Plus, if you are going to comment on the use of language, might I suggest you construct proper sentences, rather than using a vernacular lexicon of, I assume, your own devising?

          • I think internet access is a sign of living in a civilization, so actually using retarded in that way is indeed acceptable in the civilized world, perhaps just not your immediate connections.

          • Living in a civilization ≠ civilized

          • MintWaxed says:

            I believe you meant to say “presume” rather than “assume”.

          • Flamineo says:

            You’re entitled to believe that if you wish. Although I assure you that, had I intended presumption, I would have used it. I didn’t.

        • fourscoreandseven says:

          That is just plain false (and silly). Apple is pronounced like Apple computers. Or Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter. There are NOT two pronunciations of apple. Not so! You have NEVER heard an American say “opple.” Never!

      • You Brits all sound gay as hell when you talk. Keep your inbred noses out of conversations unless you are specifically requested.

  2. A little lesson in horse anatomy might help people realize that “Chomping, ” which implies chewing or biting, is wrong. Horses have incisors at the front of their long jaws, and molars way at the back, with no teeth in between. A bit fits behind the incisors, where there are no teeth. Anyone who has seen a bit put in a horse’s mouth will see the horse try to spit it out, not chew on it.

    • Ah, but “champing” means the same thing as “chomping” in the idiom in question – chewing or biting in a noisy manner. So what you’re really saying isn’t that “champing” is more correct than “chomping”, but that the idiom itself is based on flawed logic.

    • Absolutely right. When a horse is eager to get going and the rider pulls on the reins to hold it back, the horse, necessarily champs. This is the attempt to remove the offending ‘bit’ from it’s mouth. Dictionary’s are almost invariably wrong in their description, although the physical action is apparently the same. The salient fact is that they effect chewing because they want the offending metal bar gone, rather than wanting to chew on it or eat it. Thus ‘Champing’ is an entirely different act in reason and motivation than ‘chomping’. This is why the change of just one letter is so significant. They actually mean almost opposite things.

  3. Smeatfree says:

    I have only heard ‘champing’, perhaps chomping is another americanisation. The horses don’t so much bite (chomp) the bit but move it around in their mouths and move the bit around with their tongues, they would like to get rid of the bit but can’t.

  4. dHeskett says:

    The Free Online Dictionary says a meaning of champing is “To work the jaws and teeth vigorously”. That jibes with nRankin’s correction, and is NOT a meaning given for chomping.

  5. reardensteel says:

    I’ve always known the correct form of this idiom, but tend to use its incorrect form.
    I need to work on saying champing.

  6. 06010 Bored says:

    Matthew Berry at ESPN has made his preference known (champing). All other discussions are now futile.

  7. And as Dan Bradley said below a few
    months ago but perhaps department store loudly, through a megaphone: EXCUSE ME, I AM BRITISH!
    … now triple that remark in intensity.

    It would help us cope if we more often experienced an intelligent response by those who truly engage in listening to our English language, and understood the origin of your own English – or the now historically established version of English, as reworked by Americans, into something quite often totally different and foreign to our ears. We can hear you – please try to think of that difference and hear us.

  8. balloonpilot says:

    I prefer ‘champing…’

  9. Dr. Obvious says:

    Mind= blown

  10. I like this distinction : “though chomped things are often eaten, while champed things are not”.

    In this sense, “chomping at the bit” could be regarded as hyper-enthusiasm : really aggressive champing at the bit.

  11. This post is erroneous and ultimately nonsense. The expression is ‘Champing at the bit’. It’s not complicated, It’s not hard. That is the expression. If someone wants to make up new words and use a different expression, then of course it’s entirely up to them. However there is no ambiguity. The expression uses the word ‘Champing’. Chomping is embarrassing and entirely wrong. As for americans; well they have their own language. A simplified, bastardised version of English. Frankly, for many of us, it’s a struggle to get far enough down the food chain to communicate at all. All the same, God bless our colonial children. x

    • Michael Hart says:

      Wait a minute. I’m not usually one to get into these kinds of petty backs-and-forth, but this is coming from a country in which people pronounce “aluminum” as al-yoo-MIN-ee-um. There’s no “ee” in a-LOO-min-um. It’s one thing to have bad grammar because you don’t have the neuronal capacity to understand syntax. Syntax can be difficult — just like I’m not super-great at math. I can’t help that.

      But there’s no arguing the fact that you’ve added an entire syllable that doesn’t actually exist to that word. There’s no gray area. You added a syllable.

      I’m not saying that entirely negates any argument you could ever level against Americans and their grammar, spelling or stupidity in general. But, by god (intentionally lowercase), it certainly takes you off your high horse a little bit and puts you on more of a pony. We ALL have our idiosyncrasies and errors when speaking, spelling and writing.Those in glass houses….

      I, too, by the way, believe “champing” is unequivocally the correct use and don’t disagree with your primary premise. But you veer into dangerous territory when you begin disparaging American English without acknowledging your OWN foibles when it comes to communication.

      That is all. Cheers.

      • Firstly, I didn’t disparage American-English. I merely noted that it has been simplified to a degree. For example, removing the ‘u’ from words like colour and armour. Another example is the American spelling of ‘Aluminium’, where this time they lose the ‘i’. The British pronunciation of the word corresponds to the way we spell it. Also I have never yet come across anyone pronouncing the first ‘u’ as ‘yoo’. We tend to pronounce the word, Al-uh-minium. So, I’m afraid you’re entirely wrong old horse. As for ‘super-great’, well where do I start?
        Cheers :)

  12. Michael Scott says:

    Please don’t encourage bastardization of the language…especially when we all agree it’s idiomatic, which means it’s been around awhile and often has historic roots or significance.
    We don’t say “A nickel for your thoughts”……nor “The ball’s in your cart”……..so let’s not screw up THIS idiom either, just because so many lazy users failed to pay attention or do their research.

  13. Dave Sawyer says:

    I’m American and I’ve always heard and read “champing” at the bit. Perhaps like a lot of rural idioms, people have forgotten about horses and bits. Horses don’t eat them, they champ at them in a very different way than they would chomp an apple! I consider those who print “chomping” to not have proofread their copy.

  14. Scott Wasserman says:

    According to Kevin Jackson says this is not correct

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