Idioms, Cliches, and Slang
Word and Phrase Origins

Where did the phrase 'chip off the old block' come from?

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Wiki User
2012-04-06 20:02:36

It probably came from the craft of carving, in stone or wood, so

that a 'chip' (son) taken the 'old block' (the father) is made from

the same material and is therefore substantially the same.

Others believe it came from the American Civil war--During the

Civil War, ballistics-control-computers were still a thing of the

future, so experienced gun teams aimed the cannons. The ability to

land a shell in the desired location on the enemy was done by gut

feel of the sergeant with the most experience. When some of the old

cannons become hard to raise and lower the barrel, experienced

gunners would have some wood on hand to prop up the back, or one of

the wheels, to effectively change the trajectory for shots that had

fallen short or long. This was often too course of an adjustment

though, causing shots to fall on the opposite side of the intended

target area. The "smart" gunners would have an ax nearby to chip

off some of the wood, giving them finer resolution on where the

shots would fall. They would instruct their crew to "take a chip

off the block of wood". Using the same block over and over at

times, the wood block became known as the gunners "old block."

Those "smart" gunners that knew this technique would pass this on

to their followers, and eventually, someone who knew the smart

tricks of his elder became identified with the firing technique,

and he himself became known as "a chip off the old block". Later

this was applied to anyone devoted follower of a teacher, and

eventually more especially to someone who emulates their


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