I read recently that was describing a cavalry, full of "horses champing on their bits, eager to rush forwards into the fray." I have always known it as "chomping". Is "champing" a typo? Is "chomping" or "champing" correct?

  • No, but why is this question accepted? Cause it is asking about whether or not there is a correct form or not, like mine's is. – Thursagen Jun 2 '11 at 6:02
  • For a start, there's some nuance to the way the two different spellings of fairy are used. – Marcin Jun 2 '11 at 6:57
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    And there's a nuance as to the ways chewing sound made by horses are spelt, and the determination of the correctness or incorrectness of both is the ratio behind my question. – Thursagen Jun 2 '11 at 6:59
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    Do I have your right hand of forgiveness?(And I'm not being sarcastic) – Thursagen Jun 2 '11 at 7:04
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    @Marcin, Oh,great! Do you like programming? – Thursagen Jun 2 '11 at 7:12

Chomping is the typo, according to M-W:

Origin of CHOMP: alteration of champ

First Known Use: 1581

I grew up around horses and mostly heard "chomp", though.

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    "typo", in 1581? – Brennan Vincent Jun 2 '11 at 6:33
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    You mean, you heard the horses going "chomp, chomp, chomp" as they chewed, or the people around you said that the horses were "chomping"? She was only a jockey's daughter but all the horse manure... – Malvolio Jun 2 '11 at 6:47
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    @Brennan: Type was still a pretty new technology, so maybe errors were more common ;) – Marcin Jun 2 '11 at 7:10
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    Besides, those 16th century typewriters were really unreliable. – Christi Jun 2 '11 at 8:47
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    In all seriousness, there was no standardized spelling in English in 1581. Dictionaries were just getting started. Also, the Great Vowel shift (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Vowel_Shift) had just happened. Thus "champing" may well be an archaic spelling that, at the time, was actually pronounced the way we pronounce "chomping" today (compare with the 'a' sound we use in "law"). So it could be argued that actually saying "champing" (with a short a sound) is wrong. – T.E.D. Jun 2 '11 at 14:55

NGram usage shows that "champing at the bit" is the most common form of the phrase followed by "chomping at the bit":

  1. champing at the bit
  2. chomping at the bit
  3. champing on the bit
  4. chomping on the bit
  5. champing upon the bit

Options 3-5 are significantly less common.

That being said, other sources contest this and note that "chomping" is much more common:

In fact, chomp, which began as a variant of champ, is alive in English while the biting-related sense of champ is dead outside this idiom, so it’s no wonder that chomping at the bit is about 20 times as common as champing at the bit on the web. Champing at the bit can sound funny to people who aren’t familiar with the idiom or the obsolete sense of champ, while most English speakers can infer the meaning of chomping at the bit.

There is no doubt, however, that "champing at the bit" is the original idiom and "chomping" is simply replacing "champ" with the more modern "chomp". If you want to be technically correct, use "champ" but virtually any native English speaker will understand your intent regardless of which variant you choose.

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