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What does "Chomping at the Bit" Mean?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The expression chomping at the bit, also rendered as champing at the bit, refers to a noticeable eagerness, especially when prompted by frustration or impatience. A movie buff may use the term when eager to see a critically acclaimed blockbuster movie, or a computer geek could be chomping at the bit to try out a new operating system. The person may be barely able to control himself or herself until the opportunity to take action arises. There may only be a few minor details or regulations standing between a person and the thing he or she cannot wait to possess. The frustration at being artificially restrained at the very last minute can be compared to an animal struggling at the end of a leash or chain.

In fact, the expression can be traced back to the equestrian world. In the world of horses, a bit is a small metal rod attached to a harness or bridle. This metal bit fits inside a natural space within the horse's mouth. The bit serves several purposes, from discouraging the horse from eating wild grasses to guiding his or her head while connected to the reins. A horse will instinctively chew and bite at the metallic bit as long as it remains inside its mouth. The words champ or chomp both refer to the distinctive sound of a horse chewing and biting on the bit. Either "champ" or "chomp" is considered correct in modern English, although "champ" does have a longer etymological history.

The association with frustration and anxiety can be traced back to horse racing. Race horses often become conditioned to anticipate the beginning of a sanctioned race, and it is not unusual for an especially anxious or frustrated horse to begin chomping at the bit while under restraint in the starting gate. The horse may also struggle to break out or become clearly agitated at the delay. When a person becomes overwhelmed by feelings of frustration or anxiety, he or she could also be described using the same term. The anticipation can often build to a fever pitch before the horse is released from the gate or the child is released to the Christmas tree. The pent-up frustration and anxiety is often replaced with a realization that the actual event or gadget is not equal to the level of hype or anticipation.

A person who is chomping at the bit to begin a new project or test a new product may experience an emotional letdown after the initial excitement phase, but at least he or she has demonstrated the ability to become passionate and emotionally connected to an innovative or exciting development.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By skevinb — On Feb 23, 2016

You are all wrong. No horse would chomp or champ at a bit. It would be extremely painful and possibly break its teeth. The saying was, "Chafing at the bit," which had nothing whatsoever to do with being impatient. It described someone who resented authority, but obeyed nonetheless, even though they weren't particularly pleased to do so. How it morphed into "chomping at the bit" I'll never figure, but that makes absolutely no sense.

By anon353882 — On Nov 03, 2013

Champing is the correct term. Chomping has risen in popularity because people mis-hear it and assume that "chomping" was said or meant. i horse "champs" -- it doesn't "chomp."

By healthy4life — On Feb 24, 2013

This idiom describes me as a child waiting to open my birthday presents. My parents would wrap them and set them on the living room table days before my actual birthday, so I would have time to salivate and play the guessing game.

This really made me anticipate opening them. I think that if they had hidden them away in a closet somewhere until my birthday, I wouldn't have appreciated the moment nearly as much.

By Kristee — On Feb 23, 2013

I recall my mother saying that I was chomping at the bit to buy my favorite band's newest CD. I used to be a superfan of several bands, and I would follow them very closely.

I would record any TV shows they were scheduled to appear on, and I would check their website daily. I bought all of their albums and lots of merchandise, and this is what I spent my allowance on instead of clothes and going out with friends.

Looking back, I can see that it was slightly unhealthy behavior. I do miss the feeling of chomping at the bit over something, though. I just don't get that excited over anything anymore.

By giddion — On Feb 22, 2013

@DylanB – Whether you use “champing” or “chomping at the bit” probably depends on what you were taught as a child. My father always used “champing,” so I did, too, and I didn't hear anyone use “chomping” until college.

By DylanB — On Feb 22, 2013

I've always wondered whether “champing at the bit” or “chomping at the bit” was correct. I'm glad to know that either one will work.

I have a friend who insists that “champing” is correct. I am going to show him this article so that he can apologize to me!

By anon257365 — On Mar 26, 2012

The correct pronunciation is "champing at the bit" as opposed to the more frequent mispronunciation of "chomping at the bit".

By poundpuppy1 — On Jul 09, 2010

A person who appears to be "chomping at the bit" isn't necessarily frustrated or impatient. Sometimes it is a reaction to a person feeling nervous.

Little girls who are waiting in the wings for a dance recital to begin may start walking around, shaking their hands or biting their finger nails. These are instinctual, nervous reactions to a situation they cannot control, similarly to a computer geek waiting for new software to be released.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick

Writer

As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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