Champing at the Bit vs. Chomping at the Bit – Idiom Meaning, Origin & Correct Usage

Are you wondering whether the saying is “champing at the bit” or “chomping at the bit”? Let’s learn about this idiom and how to use it correctly.

You might have heard a lot of people use the terms “champing at the bit” and “chomping at the bit” interchangeably. Chomping and champing are commonly confused words in the English language, so which of these is accurate in this scenario?

It turns out that neither of these phrases is incorrect, but the original saying was “champing at the bit” as the word “champing” is older than “chomping.” Both of these sayings are ways to describe someone who is impatient or restless about something.

This meaning was illustrated by Ginnifer Goodwin when she said:

I’m desperate to have children. I am chomping at the bit. It’s a problem. I can’t imagine that I will not be a mother.

Let’s learn more about this idiom and how to use it. You might also be interested in our article on the meaning of “et al.”

Champing at the Bit vs. Chomping at the Bit

Champing at the bit vs. Chomping at the bit
Horse riders began to use this phrase “champing at the bit” to describe restless horses

As mentioned earlier, neither “champing at the bit” nor “chomping at the bit” is incorrect. These phrases are ways to show impatience.

This idiom comes from horse racing. Jockeys noticed that the part of the bridle in the horse’s mouths would be chewed on when they were impatient.

The preferred word was “champ,” which means to chew loudly. Horse riders began to use this phrase to describe restless horses. Then, others outside the sport picked it up and began applying it figuratively to people. This is why “champing at the bit” is the original saying, but using the word “chomping” isn’t wrong, as it means the same thing.

Although less common, you will also hear people say “Chafe at the bit.” While the verb “chafing” doesn’t mean biting, but instead rubbing the skin, it is also used to describe someone who is irritable or losing patience. The saying “biting at the bit,” is even less common again but means the same thing.

You might be interested in our guide on basic English grammar rules.

Chomping at the Bit Etymology

“Chomping” and “champing” can be intransitive or transitive verbs. Transitive verbs need a direct object to clarify the action, intransitive verbs do not. For example:

  • He champed – suggests he made biting or gnashing movements; no object is required to understand this sentence – intransitive verb
  • She chomped on her chips – without ‘on her chips’ we would be wondering what she chomped on – transitive verb

Other examples of intransitive verbs are:

  • We sang
  • He yawned

Other examples of transitive verbs are:

  • She brought coffee
  • He threw the frisbee

As mentioned earlier, the sayings “chomping at the bit” and “champing at the bit” are also idioms. An idiom is a phrase that may not always make sense when read literally but it has come to mean something else. While “champing at the bit” came from how restless horses behave, the vast majority of English speakers don’t use it in this context.

The verb champing, in the context of chewing, is believed to have come about in the 1500s. Prior to that, people may have said “chamb” or “cham.”

It’s not clear exactly when horse racing began, but the earliest records date back to the Olympic Games held in Greece between 700 and 40 BCE. The term “champing at the bit” was not used figuratively until the 1600s.

Although you might hear both British English and American English speakers use “champing” and “chomping at the bit” interchangeably, the word “chomping” first appeared in the American vernacular in the 1640s as an alternative to the British word “champing.”

This phrase can also be considered an “eggcorn.” Eggcorn, a combination of the words “egg” and “acorn,” is a word used by linguists to describe phrases that have changed due to people mishearing the original. As people repeat the misheard phrase often enough, the amended version becomes common use. Another example is “for all intensive purposes” and “for all intents and purposes.”

Chomping At The Bit Example Sentences

Below are some example sentences using “champing” and “chomping at the bit” so you can learn how to use them in your writing. As mentioned earlier, you can use “chomping” and “chomping” interchangeably:

  • We were all chomping at the bit to go on the German class school tour to Munich.
  • I was champing at the bit before the concert started.
  • He was chomping at the bit to get off the bench and start playing.
  • The dog was champing at the bit once he realized we arrived at the beach.
  • The children were chomping at the bit for the school holidays to start.
  • She was champing at the bit while waiting for her food to arrive.

Champing At The Bit Synonyms

If you want to vary your vocabulary, below is a word list you might find in a thesaurus to avoid repeating “champing at the bit” in your writing:

  • Straining at the leash
  • Itching to go
  • Fired up
  • Raring to go
  • Keyed up
  • Keen
  • Restless
  • Impatient
  • Hankering
  • Eager
  • Antsy

If you liked this post, you might be interested in our guide on how to use figurative language.