Chip on shoulder

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To have a chip on one's shoulder refers to the act of holding a grudge or grievance that readily provokes disputation.

It can also mean a person thinking too much of oneself (often without the credentials) or feeling entitled.[1]


Cover of sheet music for the song titled: "Don't Try to Knock a Chip from Riley's Shoulder." (J. W. Wheeler) which alludes to the expression,
An American wartime poster alluding to the expression.

This custom[clarification needed] is known in North America since the early 19th century. The New York newspaper Long Island Telegraph reported on 20 May 1830 "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". A similar notion is mentioned in the issue of the Onondaga Standard of Syracuse, New York on 8 December 1830: "'He waylay me', said I, 'the mean sneaking fellow—I am only afraid that he will sue me for damages. Oh! if I only could get him to knock a chip off my shoulder, and so get round the law, I would give him one of the soundest thrashings he ever had'." Some time later in 1855, the phrase "chip on his shoulder" appeared in the Weekly Oregonian, stating "Leland, in his last issue, struts out with a chip on his shoulder, and dares Bush to knock it off". In American author Mark Twain's 1898 manuscript of Schoolhouse Hill, character Tom Sawyer states his knowledge of the phrase and custom when he says, "[I]f you want your fuss, and can't wait till recess, which is regular, go at it right and fair; put a chip on your shoulder and dare him to knock it off."[2]

In Canada, the custom is well described at St. Peter Claver's Indian Residential School for Ojibway boys in the town of Spanish, Ontario:

The challenger might further provoke his opponent by issuing a dare for him to knock off the chip. The opponent might then display his bravery and contempt by brushing the cheek of the challenger lightly as he did so. In more formal cases, a second might take the chip and present the chip to his man who would then place it on his own shoulder. The boys would then square off and fistfight like boxers.[3][4]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1970s a commercial for a household battery used Robert Conrad, who dared the viewer to knock an Eveready battery off his shoulder.

The musical Legally Blonde has a song titled "Chip on My Shoulder". In this, after being accused of having a chip on his shoulder, Emmett Forrest explains to Elle Woods that the need to prove himself motivates him.

In the FX Series Atlanta, directed by Donald Glover, The Alligator man played by Katt Williams is seen in a scene with the director who also plays the protagonist advising him thus “If you don’t want to end up like me, get rid of that chip on your shoulder ....”


  1. ^ Korach, Myron (1 September 2002). Common Phrases: And Where They Come From. New York: The Lyon Press. ISBN 1585746827.
  2. ^ William M. Gibson, ed., Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969), p.177.
  3. ^ Johnston, Basil H. (1995). Indian school days (1st printing, University of Oklahoma Press ed.). Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 9780806126104. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  4. ^ A dictionary of slang and unconventional English, Eric Partridge, Paul Beale, p.210