“A chip off the old block” is a great example of an idiom— a short phrase that can’t be understood through its individual words and must be learned in context. This idiom is a clever way of referring to similarities between two, or perhaps more, people. Plus, like some of the most interesting idioms, it can be used negatively or positively.
Explore A chip off the old block
Meaning of “A chip off the old block”
“A chip off the old block” is an interesting idiom that is used to refer to someone who is similar to their parent or a person who was otherwise influential in their life. The “block” is the source, the person who trained, taught or raised someone else. The “chip” is their protege, child, or student. The latter is so similar to the former they appear to be identical in texture, color, and material. They’re a chip off of the same piece of stone.
When to Use “A chip off the old block”
The idiom “a chip off the old block” should be used in everyday conversations between friends, relatives, and close colleagues. It is colloquial, meaning that it doesn’t normally appear in formal or elevated speech, such as in an actual speech, academic paper, or business setting (although there are, of course, always exceptions). One might use this phrase in a positive or negative way, as is often the case with more obscure idioms. Someone could be comparing one person to another to say their similarity is something to be admired or scorned. If one is a “chip off” a disreputable “block,” it’s quite different than if they’re a “chip off” a morally upstanding or interesting “block.”
Example Sentences With “A chip off the old block”
- That’s Jerry. He’s just a chip off the old block.
- Have you seen Margie and her mom? She’s really a chip off the old block.
- After my friends meet my dad, they’re always telling me that I’m a chip off the old block.
- Are you glad that you’re a chip off the old block?
- I don’t know how else to tell you this, Adam, but you’re just a chip off the old block. You really couldn’t be more like your father.
- After spending so much time with my instructor, I feel like I’m a chip off the old block.
Why Do Writers Use “A chip off the old block?”
The idiom is, like others, used in dialogue in short stories and novels. It’s a way of relaying a particular state that a reader should be familiar with. Most English speakers will know what the writer is trying to convey when they read the phrase “a chip off the old block.” It’s common enough to where one can use it confidently in written dialogue and feel as though everyone will get what is trying to be said. The phrase may help, in some circumstances, one’s dialogue feels more realistic or believable. Characters might come across as genuine, real-seeming people if they use words and phrases that are recognizable to the reader. But, writers are also quite aware that this idiom, like many others, can be read as cliche and uninteresting, actually accomplishing the opposite of what the author is seeking to do.
Origins of “A chip off the old block”
Like almost all idioms, “a chip off the old block” has a complicated and not completely clear origin. It has also gone through several iterations with similar, although not identical words being used. For example, one of the first iterations of the phrase is found in Sermons, a volume by Robert Sanderson, published in 1621. The line reads:
Am not I a child of the same Adam … a chip of the same block, with him?
Here, the phrase used is “chip of the same block,” but the meaning is essentially the same. Another iteration can be found in John Milton’s An apology against – A modest confutation of the animadversions upon the remonstrant against Smectymnuus. In this book, Milton writes:
How well dost thou now appeare to be a Chip of the old block
This phrase is a bit different than that found in Sanderson’s Sermons and that which is used today. Milton uses “of the old block” rather than “of the same” or “off the old.” It was not until fairly recently that the phrase was steadily used as “off the old block.” In 1870, the contemporary version can be found in The Athens Messenger. The line reads:
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.
- “It takes one to know one.”
- “On thin ice.”
- “Ignorance is bliss.”
- “Get a taste of your own medicine.”
- “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
- “A picture is worth 1,000 words.”
- “You can say that again.”