Champing At The Bit Vs Chomping At The Bit & Meaning

If you are eager to get going, yet are not quite able to do so, chances are you are “chomping at the bit” – or are you? We’ve all likely used the expression, but unless you have a love of language origination, chances are you don’t know you are technically saying this phrase all wrong. 

However, saying things for long enough does provide a bit of acceptance, but let’s explore the meaning behind chomping at the bit and champing at the bit… and what is correct.

The quick answer to whether champ or chomp is correct is that both are acceptable for modern use – meaning you can use either! To champ or chomp at the bit is to be restless or unable to show restraint.

Word Origin

Champ vs chomp: both are a verb you may have heard interchangeably within this not so common phrase. 

Champing stems from an old Middle English word that has been around for at least 600 years and relates to the grinding of a horse’s teeth. Most likely imitative in nature, the word has been more modernly used to express the biting down upon a bridle bit as a horse is held in restraint – thus highlighting the animal’s restless behavior and impatience to be off (especially in horse racing).

The bit is the piece of iron held within a horses mouth, between the teeth and over the tongue to help provide control and direction with proper rider use.  

The catch is, the word champing is more or less non-existent in contemporary English despite its more popular use (more on that later), and unless you work closely with horses or in the horse racing industry, chances are you’ve never heard it used as champing at the bit. Replace champing with chomping, and now you have a more familiar term – which is why you may want to use it in this manner. 

History of the Idiom

To chomp at the bit is an idiom, or phrase that has more of a meaning than the individual words being used. Obviously, as explained above, the expression is commonly used to express the need for one to be impatient waiting, such as a horse at the bit. 

Originally coined in the book “Joseph: A Religious Poem” written by Charles Lucas and published in 1810, it appeared in the well-used, original form: champing. By 1910 it was referenced as “chomping” in The Decatur Daily Review in reference to horse racing, and the rest seems to be history.  

The word chomping is certainly a more acceptable use to many of our ears, but despite that, champing is actually the more popular use. It is important to note, however, that the phrase isn’t widely used in modern vernacular.

Popularity 

champing at the bit vs chomping at the bit English

Although you may have never heard of the word champ before now, surprisingly enough it is a more common use within the phrase as noted above. The reasoning behind this may simply be that the phrase is not that popular overall.

Chomp is more common with American English speakers compared to British use, but both American and British English have traditionally put the word champ to use more often despite a falling off of the overall phrase through the 20th Century.

champing at the bit vs chomping at the bit American English
American English

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

What About Jumping at the Bit?

You may also have heard the phrase “jumping at the bit” used as a substitution for either  champing or chomping. The issue with using the word jumping is that when taken literally it describes an action verb that makes no sense in combination with the word bit. One may visualize a horse jumping towards or over an obstacle to get closer to a bit – which is absolutely absurd.  

This substitution came into use in the early 1900’s, most likely by those unfamiliar with what a bit actually was. Although it pops into use every now and then, compared to the use of both champing and chomping – it is practically non-existent. Therefore, we do not suggest its use.  

jumping at the bit vs champing and chomping
English

The Bottom Line

The original, and proper use of the term is champing at the bit, and it also is surprisingly more widely used even though chomping at the bit may seem more familiar to the majority of our readers. Regardless, both are acceptable to use even if one is technically more correct.  If you have been concerned about using it incorrectly, have no fear, you are fine either way – unless you are a stickler for proper word usage related to original idiom.  Let us know what you think below and as always, please share!

52 thoughts on “Champing At The Bit Vs Chomping At The Bit & Meaning”

  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.

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    • 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).

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      • 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).

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      • 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.

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        • 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.

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          • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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.

    • 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!

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      • 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.”

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        • “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.

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          • 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?

          • 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. :-)

          • 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.

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

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          • 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.

          • 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.

        • 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!

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

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  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.

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    • 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.

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    • 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.

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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.

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

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  6. 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.

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  7. 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.

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  8. 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

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    • 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.

      Reply
      • 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 :)

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        • Yes, Michael. The British didn’t add a syllable; Noah Webster removed it. He was notorious for creating his own spellings.

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  9. 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.

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  10. 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.

    Reply

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