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.

Related

Raring to

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.

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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