Posted by: Dutch | October 28, 2009

Chip off the old block


A person or thing that derives from the source or parentage.


There are at least three variants of this phrase. The earlier form of this phrase is ‘chip of the same block’. The block in question may have been stone or wood. It dates back to at least 1621, when it appears in that form in Bishop (of Lincoln) Robert Sanderson’s Sermons:

“Am not I a child of the same Adam … a chip of the same block, with him?”

That seems to be interchangeable with ‘chip of the old block’ and comes not much later, in John Milton’s An apology against – A modest confutation of the animadversions upon the remonstrant against Smectymnuus (which I include in full just for the pleasure of seeing a book title longer than the line that’s quoted from it):

“How well dost thou now appeare to be a Chip of the old block.”

Both of those versions appear to be referring to a block that is gone back to in order to make another person or thing.

It stayed ‘of’ rather than ‘off’ until the 19th century. In ‘chip off the old block’ it is the parent, especially the father, that is being called the old block. The earliest reference I can find to this is in the Ohio newspaper The Athens Messenger, June 1870:

“The children see their parents’ double-dealings, see their want of integrity, and learn them to cheat … The child is too often a chip off the old block.”

– Special thanks to Gary Martin of The Phrase Finder



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