Chip on Shoulder

dirt off your shoulder by ali graham

To have a chip on one’s shoulder refers to the act of holding a grudge or grievance that readily provokes disputation. The expression comes from the ancient right of shipwrights within the Royal Navy Dockyards to take home a daily allowance of offcuts of timber, even if good wood had to be cut up for this purpose. The privilege was instated as a prescriptive right from 1634. By 1756, the privilege was costing taxpayers too much in lost timber for warship repair and construction, and a decision was then made by the Navy Board to limit the quantity a shipwright could carry home. A warrant was issued to the Royal Dockyards to reduce the quantity of chips by ordering shipwrights to carry their bundles under their arms instead of on their shoulders, as one could not carry as much timber in this fashion.

There was an incident on the very first day the law was enforced: ‘Then came John Miller, shipwright, about thirty feet before the main body of the people, on which the Master Shipwright ordered him to lower his chips. He answered he would not, with that the Master Shipwright took hold of him, and said he should. He, the said Miller replied, ‘Are not the chips mine? I will not lower them.’ Immediately the main body pushed on with their chips on their shoulders, crowded and forced the Master Shipwright and the First Assistant through the gateway, and when out of the yard give three huzzas.’

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