Champing and chomping at the bit are two variations of the well-known expression.
It means to be eager, impatient, or restless to do something.
Champing at the bridle was the original version of the idiom, dating back to the 17th century.
But the verb and object changed over time as our language evolved.
What do champing and chomping mean?
Both verbs are correct, so you can use either with this idiom.
However, there are some minor differences in their meanings and origins.
To champ means to bite or grind something noisily with the teeth, especially when angry or impatient.
It comes from the Old French word champer, which means to bite.
Whereas to chomp means to munch or chew vigorously or with a noisy biting or chewing action.
Many dictionaries agree that chomp is a byform or alteration of champ.
For purists, champing is the original and correct expression.
However, there is nothing at all wrong with using chomping.
In both cases, you accurately describe someone waiting for an opportunity, a signal, permission to act, or eagerness to begin.
It only depends on which word you are more comfortable using.
The evolution of usage
Language changes over time, and this expression is a good example.
You can see in the graph below that the word chomping only came into everyday use around 1940.
But it wasn’t until the 1980s that it overtook champing.
As far as the expression itself is concerned, both have increased in usage in recent decades.
But by any measure, both forms are now in common use, so you can’t go wrong.
Where does this idiom come from?
This idiom derives from the equestrian world. A bit is a metal piece placed in a horse’s mouth and attached to the reins.
The bit allows the rider to control the horse’s speed and direction.
When a horse is excited, nervous, or impatient, it will bite or chew on the bit, making a clamping or grinding sound.
This is called champing or chomping at the bit, indicating that the horse is ready or eager to move.
Champing and chomping accurately convey the intended meaning of the idiom.
Both depict a restless state of eager anticipation, a desire to proceed or take action.
However, champing specifically alludes to the historical origin of the phrase in equestrian terminology.
But chomping captures the essence of vigorous and determined biting or chewing. The use of either term depends on personal preference or perhaps regional use.
Examples of the expression
It’s an easy idiom to use, and it is why it is in such common use.
Here are some quick examples.
Susan was champing at the bit to get on stage and perform her role as Juliette.
Nathan was chomping at the bit to start his new job as a journalist.
Once dinner was over, the children were champing at the bit to open their Christmas presents.
As the deadline approached, the author was champing at the bit, eager to complete the final chapter.
With their bags packed and ready, Tim and Ellen were chomping at the bit to set off on their European vacation.
But as you can see, you can use either champ or chomp in the sentences above, depending on your preference.
In my case, I use champing because it’s the original.
To me, chomping sounds more like munching on a hamburger. But it’s entirely up to you which one you use.
This idiomatic expression is a little unusual.
Unlike some confusing versions of other idioms, like bear and bare your soul, there is no incorrect choice.
Most errors with idioms are spelling mistakes because two words sound the same. Peaked and piqued is a good example.
But when you want to express eagerness, there is no way to go wrong because the variations of spelling with champing and chomping make no difference.
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