MUNDANE MYSTERIES: A Chip On Your Shoulder

Have you ever been told “you have a chip on your shoulder”? What does that even mean? And what kind of chip are we talking about?

From what we now understand about having a chip on your shoulder, you know that it can motivate you to be better, learn from mistakes, or reach goals, even though it isn’t really a positive phrase. It actually means you have an angry attitude or a disagreeable behavior caused by some belief that you were wronged or treated unfairly at some point in the past. With a chip on your shoulder, it means you’ve got something to prove & you crave any possible chance to prove it. Seems just a tad belligerent, doesn’t it?

“A chip on your shoulder” actually had a pretty literal meaning at the time it sprang up here in North America back in the early 1800s. If someone put a wood chip on their shoulder, it meant that they were daring someone to knock it off, which was a way of instigating a physical fight. The “chip on the shoulder” act was mainly utilized by boys, but there’s never been any real age or gender restrictions relating to who can pick a fight via shoulder-loaded wood chip.

Not long after the chip-on-the-shoulder routine took root, people began using the phrase as a metaphor. A perfect example: in March of 1855, two Portland Oregon newspaper editors, Alonzo Leland of The Democratic Standard & Asahel Bush of the Oregon Statesman, were having a war of words through their respective publications. A different writer for another paper, The Weekly Oregonian, described the back-and-forth, by writing: “Leland, in his last issue, struts out with a chip on his shoulder, and dares Bush to knock it off”. To find out whether or not Bush ultimately did knock that chip off of Leland’s shoulder, see if you can get your hands on a back issue of any of those papers (papers which, ironically, were made out of wood chips).

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via social media (@AndyWebbRadioVoice), or shoot me an email at [email protected].