Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I want to say that an individual has a chip on their shoulder, but a month ago, they did not.

  • Did they "raise a chip on their shoulder", as might be inferred from the first cited history of the custom in Wikipedia?
  • Did they "place a chip on their shoulder" as might be inferred from the North American fighting custom (Ibid.)?
  • Did they grow a chip on their shoulder?

What verb can I use to explain the change? Can you cite any examples of this in literature or professionally-edited media (not personal blogs, but articles, books, TV, etc)?


closed as primarily opinion-based by FumbleFingers, MrHen, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, MετάEd, Rory Alsop Oct 13 '13 at 19:38

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

All answers will be POB, because there is no "idiomatic standard" for this context. Whimsically, you could echo the metaphoric reference with words like grow, sprout, etc., but unless you're specifically trying to be "witty", something like develop would probably be more natural. –  FumbleFingers Oct 11 '13 at 16:14
He's getting (quite) a chip on his shoulder might work as a verb that shows change over time. :) –  Mari-Lou A Oct 11 '13 at 16:17
@ Charles. Sorry - it's primarily opinion-based, which is one of the "preset" possible closevote reasons. But it's just too long to type. –  FumbleFingers Oct 11 '13 at 17:05
"That [something previously specified] put a chip on his shoulder." –  Merk Oct 11 '13 at 20:26
A chip can be placed on an individual's shoulder, as can be seen here 2.bp.blogspot.com/_0sbGd8DfKH4/SNIAKY9wGsI/AAAAAAAAAUU/… –  Tristan Oct 13 '13 at 16:00

7 Answers 7

The verb get expresses change over time.

Jake is getting a chip on his shoulder.


I have used "develop".

As a result of the embarrassing cheddar episode, he developed a chip on his shoulder that is evident whenever anyone mentions nachos.

However, I've also heard "carry".

Ever since, he has carried a chip on his shoulder so large that the entire annual output of cheese from the state of Wisconsin could not smother it.

"Carry" is a good word to describe someone who has one. How would that be phrased to match the idea of developing one? –  MrHen Oct 11 '13 at 16:28
@MrHen Picked up? –  Charles Oct 11 '13 at 16:46
@Charles, MrHen, I think the point is that it is more of a present perfect tense. –  Seth J Oct 11 '13 at 16:58

Of the options you presented I would go with either "grow" or "develop":

They certainly grew a chip on their shoulder, didn't they?

You've developed quite the chip on your shoulder.

"Raise" and "place" don't seem right to me but here are some other options:

Alice gained quite a chip on her shoulder.

Bob has a new chip on his shoulder.

Chuck has formed a sort of chip on his shoulder.


I personally haven't heard any of the options offered in the original question. I would use "developed" if I were going to use "chip on his shoulder." You can go the non-idiomatic route and write something about becoming prejudiced, biased, and so on. I can't recall anyone talking about the progression over time. It seems to be one of those things that jumps out, unexpected, and you react "wow, that's quite a chip on your shoulder."


It is such an overworked expression that I would tend to use 'grudge', or 'grievance'. They also seem to leave open the possibility that the so-called 'chip' may have justification. The problem with 'chip on shoulder' is that it borders on a moral judgement about the individual suggesting he/she is a victim of their own attitude and no-one else is to blame. It is, in my view, a very bad expression to use. I know that there is an extensive historical entry on it in Wikipedia. But the OED doesn't touch it, so I have no way of knowing how accurate that is. In my experience it is most often used by a person who themselves has some sort of grudge against the one with the so-called chip. It is not the sort of term a professional, psychologist or psychotherapist would use. Of course a well-balanced person may have a chip on both shoulders!


How about using some variation of 'accrete'?

  • There accreted quite a chip on her shoulder.

Or, if you're OK with referring to the concept without using the words in their conventional sequence (chip on [pronoun] shoulder) you might go with:

  • A chip was gradually accreting on his shoulder.
  • They were all undergoing rapid shoulder chip accretion.

'Accrete' has a more flair than 'develop' or 'grow' or 'get' and brings out a sense of the process over time. It's more visual. And perhaps helps you buy the what is arguably an overly familiar phrase.

It seems to me that chip on X's shoulder is informal while accrete is formal, so you have a bit of a register mismatch in this answer. –  snailboat Oct 12 '13 at 0:56
@snailboat I agree there is a possible register mismatch. But I also think it's possible that, in the right context, 'accrete' could give the statement about the 'chip on X's shoulder' a quality of commentary in addition to being merely factual or descriptive. The perceived formality of 'accrete' can sound as sarcastic, or snarky, perhaps even as impatience with a situation in development for some time. It could easily be overly formal, but sometimes the misapplication of formality can strike just the right tone, precisely because of the register mismatch. –  Nicole Oct 13 '13 at 2:28

to resent, to begrudge, to bear a grudge. But these verbs are not colloquial like your expression.

I'm specifically asking for a verb to use with that idiom that means "to become a person who has" a chip on their shoulder. Also, all of these words have very different connotations than the idiom - and the first two are transitive! –  Charles Oct 11 '13 at 16:23

This site is currently not accepting new answers.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .