What Does “A Chip On Your Shoulder” Mean?

Meaning Of “A Chip On Your Shoulder”

To have “a chip on your shoulder” is another way to say that you feel anger due to a long-term grudge. In other words, someone has treated you wrong, and you are still upset about it. 

In addition to this, the phrase can also describe someone who feels as though they have something to prove or someone to beat. 


  • Margot had a chip on her shoulder since her teacher yelled at her in class. 
  • Ever since one of his coworkers ate his lunch out of the fridge, Daniel has had a chip on his shoulder 
  • You still seem upset about what happened last week. Do you have a chip on your shoulder 
  • Since her professor gave her a bad score on her exam, Clara has had a chip on her shoulder 

Origin Of The Phrase

So, where does this phrase come from? Most people probably think of a potato chip sitting on your shoulder. However, this is far from the truth. The “chip” referenced in this phrase is meant to be a small piece of wood (like a woodchip). 

Historically, people who carried large logs/timber would put them over their shoulders. When they did this, chips and flakes would leave residue on their shoulders. Although this may be one of the things that inspired this phrase, there is another historical aspect. 

Supposedly in the 19th century, people would purposefully put wood chips on their shoulders. This was a sign that they were looking to start a fight. Many would dare others to knock off the woodchips just so they could start a fight.

This occurrence was so widespread that it can be found publicized in many newspapers from the period. It seems like there is a long and complex history to the start of this phrase. Interestingly, you can probably see the meaningful connection between the modern-day meaning and its original counterpart. 

Related: Check out our “common expressions” section for more articles like this one!

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By Ryan Fisher

Ryan holds degrees from Pacific Lutheran University and specializes in proofreading, editing, and content writing with an emphasis on business communication.

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