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Monday, January 3, 2011

Breakfast of ... chompions?

A Wordlady reader left a comment upbraiding me for saying "chomping at the bit" , which he felt was incorrect and should be "champing at the bit". Chomp and champ are simply variants of the same word, the former North American and the latter British. "Chomp" is no more "incorrect" than calling the strip of concrete on which you walk a "sidewalk" rather than a "pavement".

Champ first cropped up in English in the 1500s, along with a variant spelling chaump , which suggests that both pronunciations existed even then. The "chomp" pronunciation was the one that migrated to North America. The etymology is obscure, but this word is not related to the "champ" that is short for "champion", which comes from the French word for "field". It has been suggested that the word is onomatopoeic, reflecting the sound of jaws crushing and chewing noisily. This explanation is plausible, and makes it even harder to defend the theory that "champ" is correct and "chomp" incorrect, since it is impossible to say exactly what vowel sound is being used when your jaws are crushing something.

A similar evolution happened with the verb "stamp", which from its beginnings had a variant "staumpe". This survived in British dialect and migrated over to the US where it evolved into "stomp".

1 comment:

  1. re ... to the US where it evolved into "stomp"

    Thank you. I've always wondered why Americans say "stomp." It had sounded to me like a back-woods or hillbilly deviation.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.