Posted by: Jack Henry | July 17, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Busting One’s Chops

I think when most of us hear the word chop, we think of karate chopping or maybe pork chops. Today, I thought we’d look at other “chop” uses in our language. First, from the Grammarist, the two idioms: bust one’s chops and lick one’s chops.

The idiom to bust one’s chops has two meanings. First, bust one’s chops may mean to exert oneself, usually said when one has put a lot of effort into something. Second, bust one’s chops may mean to nag or criticize someone in an annoying fashion, often by exercising a petty amount of authority over that person. The word chops has a secondary meaning that is not familiar to many English speakers. Chops may mean the sides of the face.

To lick one’s chops means to anticipate an upcoming pleasure or to relish something. The expression lick one’s chops may literally mean to lick one’s lips or it may be used metaphorically. Again, the word chops in this case means the sides of the face, derived from the Old English word chaps meaning jaws.

While I’m familiar with these idioms, I started wondering where pork chops come from. Do they come from around a pig’s mouth? I don’t know, since I’m not a butcher or pork eater. Here’s what the piggy map says:

So, a porker’s chops are on his or her back—not part of the face.

Of course, I couldn’t stop there, so I had to look for some more chop-related idioms. On the Free Dictionary website, I found these:

  • chop logic

To argue in a tedious or pedantic way. I can’t stand the way he chops logic! You can’t have a conversation without him turning it into some tiresome fight!

  • flap (one’s) chops

To chatter or blather. Quit flapping your chops—I need some quiet so I can think! Whenever Charlie starts to flap his chops, I can’t get in a word!

  • chop and change

To continually change one’s course of action, to the confusion or irritation of others. Primarily heard in UK, Australia. When we chop and change this much, it frustrates our customers. We need to set a schedule and stick to it.

And you know me…I still couldn’t stop! I was thinking about choppers (helicopters) and a different kind of “hog” or “chopper”: a motorcycle. Where did those definitions come from? Here are some vague etymologies for chops (the side of the face), and choppers, from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

  • chops (n.)
    "jaws, sides of the face," c. 1500, perhaps a variant of chaps in the same sense, which is of unknown origin.
  • chopper (n.)
    1550s, "one who chops," agent noun from chop. Meaning "meat cleaver" is by 1818. Meaning "helicopter" is from 1951, Korean War military slang (compare egg-beater); as a type of stripped-down motorcycle (originally preferred by Hells Angels) from 1965.

And now, it’s time to go! As my mom used to say, “chop chop!”

Okay. One more item. From Wikipedia:

"Chop chop" is a phrase rooted in Cantonese. It spread through Chinese workers at sea and was adopted by English seamen. "Chop chop" means "hurry" and suggests that something should be done now and without delay.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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