Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you ever had a chip on your shoulder?

Is this one of those phrases that is hard to understand in English?

If you have heard it and aren’t sure of it’s meaning, you aren’t alone.

This is a phrase to speak to somebody’s attitude or approach, and it’s not a favorable one.

We’re going to look at this phrase, how to use it, and other ways that may be a little gentler to use.

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We have a question from a listener from Instagram about this silly sounding idiom.

Hi ladies,

Thank you for your show! I listen to it all the time, and it’s really helpful! I am wondering about a phrase that I’ve heard that I don’t understand. The phrase is “chip on your shoulder.” Can you help me to understand this?

Thank you very much,


Understanding Some Background

This is a great phrase, and it’s actually really common and userful.

We’ve done some episodes that may help you to understand a bit of background.

Does Someone Have It In For You?

Become A Smart Alec With These Tips On English Names

So what does this mean?

It basically means you are bitter, which we have discussed before.

You may have a bad feeling, or maybe you are feeling aggressive or negative in some way.

This may very well cause you to get into an argument. 

It may help you to visualize this if you can see how it would work in some examples.

  1. Martha had a chip on her shoulder because she didn’t get into her school’s choir. She wouldn’t to to see any of their performances.
  2. “Why do you have a chip on your shoulder today? I thought we were over our fight.”
  3. She was really entitled and had a chip on her shoulder, which made others not want to be around her.

So you can see that it’s not a flattering phrase to use, but there may be instances where it is fitting.

You do want to be careful about saying this as it may offend somebody if used, and so tone of voice matters greatly.

Be aware that a phrase like this could very well lead to an argument depending on the person and the circumstances.

Other Ways To Express This

There are other ways to talk about this which may be helpful to know about.

Some of these may go over better than others, and therefore they may ultimately make a better choice in your particular situation.

  • A bad attitude: This is pretty straightforward and you can say it gentler if necessary. You might say “I don’t know what is wrong with him, but he has a bad attitude today.”
  • In a bad mood/moody: This is an even gentler way to say it, and it often applies to something temporary or passing. We all feel this way sometimes, so it’s very understandable. You could say “I don’t mean to be rude. I’m just in a bad mood.”
  • Resentful: This is a bit stronger but sometimes it’s the only thing that applies to how you are feeling. There may be good reason why you are feeling this way. You could say “I’m a bit resentful because they always flake out on plans–so why should I try to adjust my schedule?”
  • Crabby: Everyone gets crabby sometimes and so we can all feel this one. You may be tired, stressed, or just in this kind of mood. You might hear “They were crabby about the fact that the store ran out of what they wanted.”
  • Woke up on the wrong side of the bed: This is not used as often, but it can say something like this person you are talking about happens to be moody today. Maybe things aren’t going their way that particular day. You could say “I didn’t mean to be like that. I guess I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”

When you use “Chip on your shoulder” it’s almost like you have a grudge of some kind, or like you have it out for someone.

How Can You Avoid Having A Chip On Your Shoulder?

As you can see, this is not a favorable behavior or way to be.

Whenever possible, you want to avoid feeling this way or coming across this way.

Recognizing this, there are a few things that you can do to avoid being this way.

  • Practice being grateful: Even when it may be difficult, you want to find a way to be grateful. Try to appreciate the people and the things around you and it will make your outlook and attitude so much better.
  • See things through the eyes of other people: This is huge because it allows you to have empathy. It shows that you can sympathize with other people and how they think and feel. Though this may not always be easy, try to see things from the other persons point of view.
  • Take a deep breath! This may sound silly, but sometimes it can make all the difference in the world. Take a step back literally and figuratively and take a deep breath. This can help you to manage whatever is causing you stress, and also ensure that you can deal with things with a clear head.

Though it may not always be easy, these are a few things you can do to avoid having a chip on your shoulder.

This can be a really good thing to think about so that you ensure that you are not the person who has a chip on your shoulder–attitude is everything!


This is a great way to describe an unfortunate behavior, or even a feeling about someone.

Feel free to use it, but know that it would be insulting if you said it to someone.

Save this only for the right situation where you know it may come across the wrong way.

There are some instances where it may be appropriate, and now you know how to use it and ensure that it’s only for the right person or occassion.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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