Chip On Your Shoulder

Meanings of “Chip On Your Shoulder”

The phrase “chip on your shoulder” means some grievance or some sense of inferiority that makes a person be ashamed of himself among others. It also means that a person is holding a grudge against some. Rarely, the phrase is also used when a person feels they are entitled to special treatment.

Origin of “Chip On Your Shoulder” 

The phrase “chip in your shoulder” is stated to have originated in the United States and has been used as an order in The History of Work and Labor Relations, published in 1999. However, the order was used in 1739. It goes thus; “Shipwrights to be allowed to bring [chips] on their shoulders near to the dock gates.”

Examples in Literature

Example #1

The Chip On Your Shoulder by Edgar Albert Guest

You’ll learn when you’re older, that chip on your shoulder
Which you dare other boys to upset
And stand up and fight for, and struggle and smite for,
Has caused you much pain and regret.
When Time, life’s adviser, has made you much wiser,
You won’t be so quick with the blow;
You won’t be so willing to fight for a shilling,
And change a good friend to a foe.
You won’t be a sticker for trifles, and bicker
And quarrel for nothing at all;
You’ll grow to be kinder, more thoughtful, and blinder
To faults which are petty and small.
You won’t take the trouble your two fists to double
When someone your pride may offend;
When with rage now you bristle you’ll smile or you’ll whistle,
And keep the good will of a friend.
You’ll learn when you’re older, that chip on your shoulder
Which proudly you battle to guard,
Has frequently shamed you and often defamed you,
And left you a record that’s marred!
When you’ve grown calm and steady, you won’t be so ready
To fight for a difference that’s small
For you’ll know, when you’re older, that chip on your shoulder
Is only a chip after all.

The meaning of this phrase is literal as given in the title and is a thematic strand in the poem. Here, ‘chip on your shoulder’ becomes a source of inferiority in the youth, a point to fight for in adulthood, and then turns into just a blot or chip in the old age when a person becomes mature. He means that the whole meaning of this phrase depends on one’s age and understanding of how it offends him or not.

Example #2

The Chip on the Shoulder by Arthur Guiterman

Learn this now before you are older:
Don’t go through life with a chip on your shoulder,
Always aggrieved and ever offended,
Fancying wrongs that are not intended.
Let not a sense of humor desert you,
Take it that nobody means to hurt you,
Find no insult in idle chatter,
Pass it over; it doesn’t matter.
Look for the best in everybody,
Value the wool, forget the shoddy;
Get in the habit of liking people.
Love is the spire on every steeple.

This poem is a good piece of advice by the poet, who asks his readers that they should not take everything as chips on their shoulders and not become offended. Rather, they should take everything in a laughing way and should not abandon their sense of humor. It is because nobody has so much free time to insult and offend you. Therefore, the readers must show love and shower love to cultivate in themselves a good habit of “liking people.” The meanings of the phrase are shown through an allegory.

Example #3

Chips on My Shoulder by Soft Cell

Chips on my shoulder
More as I grow older
Feel I owe a debt
For the things I don’t get
I only miss out
Well I was there before
I sit in a corner
Sit on the floor
Chips on my shoulder

The above lines show the use of this phrase in the first and the last line. The first stanza shows the singer is missing things in life and it feels as if he is in a debt, which he compares to the chip on his shoulder. He adds the list of burdens he is carrying such as self-pity, injustice, and complaints of life. 

Example #4

A Chip on My Shoulder: How to Love Your Cop with Attitude by Victoria M. Newman

This self-help book, by Victoria Newman, beautifully sheds light on the little things that a person takes to his heart and feels offended. She has rather given her own examples of marrying a police officer and then adopting that mindset. She has then highlighted the challenges that are easy to cope with but people take them as chips on their shoulders, the reason that such marriages often end in separation. The meanings of the phrase are given through her own storyline.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “Lionel believes that his bachelorhood is a chip on his shoulder. He’s so desperate to get married.”

Example #2: “Life doesn’t have to be a chip on your shoulder. Take one day at a time and focus on helping others.”

Example #3: “John is showing as if his family link is like a chip on his shoulder.”

Example #4: “He feels this incident a chip on his shoulder. Therefore, he often waves the people from afar and enters that small street leading to the outer wild forest.”

Example #5: “Emily hated her aunt. Every time she visits she feels as if there’s a chip on her shoulder.”