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You’re Saying It Wrong! Champing vs. Chomping

April 7, 2014

A new feature here, in which Uncle John corrects widespread grammatical and language abominations. First up: a common phrase that’s often said incorrectly.

It’s champing at the bit, not chomping at the bit.

chomping vs. champingThis phrase (or idiom) comes from the sport of kings: horse racing. A bit is part of the apparatus that goes in the horse’s mouth and connects to the bridle and reins so the horse can be controlled and directed by the jockey on its back. The bit fits into a toothless ridge of the horse’s mouth, so the horse never really bites the bit. But it can grind his teeth or jaw against the bit, and if it does, it means that the horse is either nervous, or really excited about racing. That’s how the phrase “champing at the bit” entered everyday communications: to indicate extreme eagerness.

But “chomping” has come to replace “champing” in this phrase. It makes sense, to a degree, because “chomping” is a far more common word than “champing,” and would seem to relate back to the phrase’s origin, because horses’ mouths have teeth, and teeth “chomp.” However, champing is a similar word with a similar meaning to chomp—it means “to grind teeth.” The original phrase works.

In the end, it’s just wrong to say “chomping,” because “chomping” is a transitive verb, or a verb that needs an object for it to make sense. In other words, you have to have something to chomp on if you want to use “chomp.” A horse doesn’t chomp, or bite, the bit—he champs, or grinds, his teeth. No bit is necessary for a champing to happen, so champing is an intransitive verb, which means no “object” is required.

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John
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John

Actually, this is completely wrong. Its Champing the bit. Lose the “at” and you would be correct.

Fred
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Fred

Champ is not very commonly used in the US, unless you’re talking about a sports “champ”. Perhaps it’s more common in UK English?

Alison
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Alison

I’ve always heard it as “champing at the bit”. It’s not a matter of it being from some other country — of course it’s not very common: it’s a niche term used in horseracing, and is otherwise archaic outside that meaning. Doesn’t take away from the fact the original correct phrase is “champing at the bit”.

cory chambers
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cory chambers

My horse like to chomp her jaws all the time with a hackamore or bite and likes to bit you. How can I stop her from doing this and why does she do it.

Dana
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Dana

The point remains that if you’re going to use the phrase, say it correctly. It helps to understand the meaning of a term that is not commonly used. I like it when idioms are explained. It’s good to know what you’re saying!

Allen
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Allen

Champing is a transitive verb too, for a good reason: it’s the exact same word as “chomping”. It’s just a difference in British & American spelling, though not pronunciation: The English “champ” is pronounced “chomp”. In the 19th century, the spelling in the US shifted to match the pronunciation. Here’s an 18th century example from Jonathan Swift, referring to a person eating peaches: “I was this morning to visit Lord Keeper, who made me reproaches that I had never visited him at Windsor. He had a present sent him of delicious peaches, and he was champing and champing, but I… Read more »

Rich
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Rich

I was on the fence about this until you proved yourself wrong at the end of your rant. The fact that you admit the horse would need to have something to “chomp” on, and to “champ” requires no object (the bit) completely defies your entire argument.
So… since champing is only “grinding teeth” and chomping requires an object, the horse can only CHOMP at a bit.
This, my new firm opinion, is solidly upheld by your own description.
Thank you for clearing that up for me.

Jacobin Girondiste
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Jacobin Girondiste

50 years ago no one was stupid enough to say or write “chomping” at the bit. Today we live in the age of the word-of-mouth generation (better called the Goofy Generation, the descendants of dope addicts) who have never opened a book and who therefore repeat what they have mis-heard. They then use it in writing and it even gets into dictionaries, because dictionaries have ceased to be arbiters of what is correct and now list every misuse that anyone has ever uttered, in order to pander to the masses. Similarly, stamping ground has become “stomping” ground and one-upmanship has… Read more »

Kathi Byam
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Kathi Byam

I’ve never heard “champing” used as a verb–maybe it’s UK specific.

Darren
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Darren

Rich, needs to re-read what was said. You seem to have mis-understood.
Allen, The use you reference does not suggest chomping was occurring at all, in fact, as you would with a juicy peach, you may champ down on it rather than chomp it as chomping would be ridiculous with a juicy peach.
Champing is more of a pressing down with the mouth and not a teeth comping exercise.
And, let’s not get upset here, we are talking about words…

Kerry
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Kerry

Rich, you missed the point. The bit is in a space with no teeth, therefore the bit is not being acted upon and is not really the object.

AP Tipps
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No. It’s champing at the bit. The horse is champing AT the bit, not champing the bit or even champing on the bit. See the difference?

In fact, I had never heard anyone say anything except for ‘champing’ until I cam across this page. Sounds like if some people have started using ‘chomping’ it’s one of those corruptions of the original phrase.

B Colyer
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B Colyer

Has always beem chomp at the bit champ is a winner period. Who,changed the English language when we werent looking??

Jacqueline Turner
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Jacqueline Turner

To Allen. I’d like to correct you “champ” is not pronounced the same as “chomp” in the UK, have no idea where you get the idea from? As a Brit, it’s always been “champing at the bit” for me.

TheDonald2016
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TheDonald2016

Correct, Dana! A point for you. Now let’s all vow to say it and spell it properly and move on with our lives….:)

Robbie Pierce
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Robbie Pierce

The last two commenters do not understand what a transitive verb is.

Ted
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Ted

If ‘chomp’ = ‘champ’, then we have 2 regional variant spellings of the same phrase. ‘Champ’ just came first.
‘Chomp’ or ‘champ’ can be used without an object (to denote loud chewing actions).
The preposition ‘at’ is an archaic usage, meaning that the champing is occurring ‘against’ or ‘adjacent’ to the bit. In this consideration it all makes perfect sense.
The champing may occur regardless of the bit, however the presence of the bit in the horses mouth is what communicates the sensation to the rider, hence their perspective is of ‘champing at the bit’.

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