Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

Let’s say you’ve come up with a brilliant idea for a new mobile app. You’ve worked with your team of designers to come up with just the right user interface. You’ve worked with your team of developers to make sure the app actually functions the way it should. You’ve got all the pieces ready to roll and you’re growing increasingly anxious just to launch the darn thing. Are you champing at the bit? Or are you chomping at the bit?

To say that you are “champing” at the bit (or “chomping” at the bit) is to say that you are really eager to get started. Maybe you’ve been working on something for weeks, but it keeps getting delayed for one reason or another. You’re getting a little annoyed and you’re growing increasingly impatient. You’re restless and antsy. A related idiom, though one with a slightly different meaning, is to say that you’re sitting “on pins and needles.”

The origin of the phrase “champing at the bit” comes from the equestrian world. The “bit” refers to the metal mouthpiece that is sometimes used for controlling a horse. And when a horse gets a little too eager, anxious, or nervous, it might start to chew on that metal mouthpiece. And to “champ” is to chew or bite in a noisy fashion.

And so, a horse can be literally champing at the bit, which is then interpreted as a sign of impatience. This has since extended in a more figurative sense for the rest of us.

The curiosity is that the word “champing” (I champ, you champ, he champed, etc.) isn’t really used outside of this context to refer to chewing or biting. We do use the word “chomp” for this purpose, however, and “chomp” actually started out as a colloquial variation on “champ.” Because of this, people might be more apt to use “chomping at the bit,” since it makes more logical sense with modern language.

Purists might say that “chomping at the bit” is incorrect and nonstandard, since “champing” is the original idiom. While it’s definitely wrong to say you’ll make due or you’ll extract revenge, there’s no real right or wrong answer here. It depends on how flexible you are with the English language.

So, feel free to champ or chomp to your heart’s delight. Your orthodontist will thank you later.