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Does the idiom have strictly negative meaning or is it neutral? Can it be used to talk not only about close people so that not to insult anybody?

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    I'd say it's not pejorative at all. But as to register, you chew the fat with your mates, not your colleagues (unless it's a works do). – Edwin Ashworth Apr 14 '15 at 16:04
  • I agree with @EdwinAshworth that it's not negative, and go a step further to suggest that it is in fact positive. But it is a colloquial expression with a notable "ick" factor and should be used with discretion. The President would probably not use it in a State of the Union Address, for example—yet he might. – Robusto Apr 14 '15 at 16:08
  • It doesn't have a negative meaning on its own. However, since the idiom refers to informal, idle small talk, people may take offense if you describe talking about a serious matter as "chewing the fat" because they might think you're trivializing the subject matter. – Nicole Apr 14 '15 at 16:31
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According to J.E. Lighter, The Random House Dictionary of American Slang (1994), the word originally (in British usage prior to 1885) meant "to grumble" although it seems to have lost that sense long ago:

chew the fat to converse, gossip, or chat. {In British use before 1885, as "to grumble" (OEDS).}

(Lighter finds examples of U.S. usage of the term going back to 1907.)

So whether "chew the fat" carries a pejorative edge in a particular instance depends on whether you interpret it in that case as implying "to converse" (not at all negative) or "to gossip" (often mildly negative or disapproving). Either way, as both Edwin Ashworth and Robusto observe in comments above, it's a very informal expression.

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