chip on the shoulder

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Nov 12 19:08:03 UTC 2010

An odd but unsurprising meaning reversal:
> We're talking about the first time in recent memory in which an
> unpopular party was replaced with an even more unpopular party. That
> should be a weight on GOP shoulders, not a chip on GOP shoulders.

This reading suggests that "a chip on the shoulder" is either something
light that could be ignored or something positive. Not quite what the
OED has:

> a chip on one's shoulder (orig. U.S.), carried as a challenge to
> others (see earlier quots.); hence, a display of defiance or
> ill-humour; an unforgotten grievance; a sense of inferiority
> characterized by a quickness to take offence.

In contrast, "not to care a chip" suggests lightness of burden.
Similarly, "chip in porridge/broth" suggests similar unimportance (OED:
"does neither harm nor good"). All three are filed under the same
subentry in OED.

Relevant OED examples ("not care a chip" goes back further):

> 1675 COTTON Scoffer Scoft 115, I know, but care not of a Chip. 1686
> GOAD Celest. Bodies I. xvii. 108 The Sextile is no Chip in Broth..but
> a very considerable Engine. 1688 Vox Cleri Pro Rege 56 A sort of Chip
> in Pottage, which (he hopes) will not do Popery much good, nor the
> Church of England much harm. 1830 Long Isl. Tel. (Hempstead, N.Y.) 20
> May 3/5 When two churlish boys were determined to fight, a chip would
> be placed on the shoulder of one, and the other demanded to knock it
> off at his peril. 1855 Weekly Oregonian 17 Mar. (Th.), Leland, in his
> last issue, struts out with a chip on his shoulder, and dares Bush to
> knock it off. 1868 HOLME LEE B. Godfrey xxxi. 164 Basil did not care a
> chip. 1880 Ch. Times 25 June (D.), The Burials
> resemble the proverbial chip in porridge, which does neither good nor
> harm. 1887 Harper's Mag. Oct. 658/1 The way that dog went about with a
> chip on his shoulder..was enough to spoil the sweetest temper. 1903
> N.Y. Sun 1 Nov., Who, they say, wears a chip on his shoulder because
> he didn't get the Republican nomination for City Treasurer. 1905 Amer.
> Illustr. Mag. Nov. 88 Each boy had a sort of chip-on-the-shoulder air.
> 1930 W. S. MAUGHAM Gentl. in Parlour xliv. 271 He was a man with a
> chip on his shoulder. Everyone seemed in a conspiracy to slight or
> injure him. 1952 W. J. H SPROTT Social Psychol. 220 If you are
> spoiling for a fight you go about with a ‘chip on the shoulder’
> challenging anyone to knock it off. 1956 J. CANNAN People to be Found
> ix. 148, I got him the sack--months ago but all this time he's been
> carrying a chip on his shoulder.


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