Week of April 24, 2022

Chip Chip Hooray


At one time, there was a custom in the US and Canada in which someone seeking a fight would place a chip of wood on his shoulder and whoever knocked it off was agreeing to fight him. Hence the saying that an aggressive or antisocial person “has a chip on his shoulder.”


Among deep-fried potato products, what Americans call “chips” the British call “crisps,” and what the Brits call “chips” Americans call “fries.”


In the traditional set of blue, red, and white poker chips, blue are the highest value and the namesake for “blue chip” stocks, the well-known, well-established, and fiscally sound companies on the stock market.


Poker is the origin of several chip-related terms. To “chip in,” or help with a collective effort, comes from the ante in poker where all player contribute to the winnable pot. Likewise, “when the chips are down,” referring to a crucial moment when fortunes and personal circumstances can change quickly (and often already have changed for the worse in common usage), is a poker reference to when the hands are revealed to determine who won.


Before most common-usage poker chips were plastic, they were clay, or later, a clay composite which added strength. Chips of clay composite or ceramic remain common in casinos. Further back in time, individual gambling houses might have used their own chips of bone, ivory, shellac, paper, or some other material before the chip designs and values were more standardized.


Describing “a chip off the old block,” for children who are similar to the parent, is a notably old term, with an apparent origin in the 15th century.


That adventurous cartoon chipmunk duo is called Chip & Dale and the famous muscular male dance revue is Chippendale’s, but the original Chippendale (and apparent namesake) was London cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale, who designed intricate furniture that became popular in England and colonial America.