Understanding the Idiom: "lick one's chops" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

The English language is full of idioms that can be difficult to understand for non-native speakers. One such idiom is “lick one’s chops”. This phrase is often used in informal conversations, literature, and media. It has a figurative meaning that may not be immediately apparent to those who are unfamiliar with it.

To begin with, it is important to note that idioms are expressions or phrases whose meanings cannot be understood from the literal definitions of their individual words. Instead, they rely on cultural references or shared knowledge among speakers to convey their intended message. The idiom “lick one’s chops” falls into this category.

At its core, “lick one’s chops” means to anticipate something eagerly or with great pleasure. This could refer to anything from a delicious meal about to be served to an exciting event on the horizon. The image evoked by this expression is that of someone salivating at the prospect of what lies ahead.

While the exact origin of this idiom is unclear, it likely comes from hunting terminology where animals would lick their lips after catching prey as a sign of satisfaction and anticipation for more food. Over time, humans began using this expression metaphorically in various contexts unrelated to hunting.

Today, “lick one’s chops” remains a popular idiom used across different forms of media and conversation styles. It can add emphasis and color when describing situations where people are eagerly anticipating something positive happening soon.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “lick one’s chops”

The idiom “lick one’s chops” has been used for centuries to describe a feeling of anticipation or excitement about something. The origins of this phrase are not entirely clear, but it is believed to have originated in the world of hunting.

The Hunting Connection

In the past, hunters would often bring their dogs with them on hunts. After a successful hunt, the dogs would be rewarded with meat from the animal they had caught. It is said that when a dog was anticipating its meal, it would lick its chops in excitement. This behavior eventually became associated with feelings of anticipation and excitement in general.

Usage Over Time

The first recorded use of this idiom dates back to the 16th century, where it was used in Shakespeare’s play “The Taming of the Shrew”. Since then, it has been used in various forms throughout literature and everyday conversation.

Over time, this idiom has evolved to take on additional meanings beyond just anticipation or excitement. It can also be used to describe someone who is scheming or plotting something devious.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “lick one’s chops”

When it comes to idioms, there are often variations in usage depending on the context and cultural background. The idiom “lick one’s chops” is no exception. While the general meaning of anticipating something with eagerness or excitement remains consistent, there are different ways this idiom can be used.

One variation is to use it in a negative sense, such as when someone is eagerly anticipating something bad happening to another person. For example, “He was licking his chops at the thought of his rival failing.” In this case, the idiom takes on a more sinister tone.

Another variation involves using it in a metaphorical sense rather than literal. For instance, instead of referring to actual saliva being licked off one’s lips, it can refer to mental preparation or strategizing before an event. An athlete might say they’re “licking their chops” before a big game as they mentally prepare themselves for success.

Furthermore, regional differences can impact how this idiom is used and understood. In some areas of the United States, for example, people may use similar idioms like “smacking your lips” or “rubbing your hands together” instead of “licking your chops.”

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “lick one’s chops”

To begin with, some synonyms for “lick one’s chops” include: anticipate eagerly, salivate over, covetousness, and crave. These words convey a sense of desire or longing for something that is yet to come. On the other hand, antonyms for this phrase might be: indifferent, uninterested or dispassionate. These terms suggest a lack of enthusiasm or interest in a particular situation.

The idiom “lick one’s chops” has its roots in hunting culture where animals would literally lick their lips after catching prey as an instinctive response to hunger. This behavior was then anthropomorphized into human language as a way of expressing anticipation and eagerness towards something desirable.

In modern times, this idiom is often used in reference to food but can also apply to any situation where someone is eagerly anticipating something they want. For example: “I’m licking my chops just thinking about that vacation I’ve been planning.”

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “lick one’s chops”

In order to fully understand and use the idiom “lick one’s chops”, it is important to practice using it in different contexts. Here are some practical exercises that will help you become more comfortable with this expression:

Exercise 1: Writing

Write a short story or paragraph using the idiom “lick one’s chops”. Try to incorporate the phrase into your writing in a way that feels natural and appropriate.

Exercise 2: Conversation

Practice using the idiom in conversation with friends or family members. Start by introducing the phrase and explaining its meaning, then try to use it naturally during your conversation.


  • Pay attention to how others use idioms in conversation or writing.
  • Practice using idioms regularly to improve your fluency.
  • If you’re not sure if an idiom is appropriate for a particular situation, ask someone who is fluent in English for advice.

The more you practice using idioms like “lick one’s chops”, the easier they will become to understand and use correctly!

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “lick one’s chops”

When using idioms in conversation or writing, it is important to use them correctly. The idiom “lick one’s chops” is no exception. This phrase means to anticipate something with great pleasure or eagerness, especially when it comes to food or a potential victory. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this idiom.

One mistake is confusing the meaning of “lick one’s lips” with “lick one’s chops.” While both phrases involve licking body parts in anticipation, they have different meanings. Licking one’s lips implies desire for food or drink, while licking one’s chops implies desire for victory or success.

Another mistake is using the idiom too broadly and out of context. For example, saying “I’m licking my chops for the weekend” doesn’t make sense because weekends aren’t typically associated with victories or successes. It is important to use the idiom appropriately and in situations where anticipation of success makes sense.

Lastly, another common mistake is mispronouncing the word “chops.” Some people may pronounce it as “shops,” which changes the meaning entirely and can lead to confusion.

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