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Meaning of “Chop and Change” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

Chop and Change

“From boy to man, from man to boy, would chop and change degree.”

-EARL OF SURREY: How No Age is Content (c. 1540).

Literally, this phrase means “shop and exchange”—the words: “chop,” “chap,” “cheap,” and “shop” having the same Teutonic root, and meaning to barter; to get cheaply. A petty chapman, in the Middle Ages, was a pedlar; and Cheapside (London) originally meant “shop side,” or a place of exchange. The verb “chop” means to cut, as the “chops” (or “chaps”), that is, the jaws, cut food, and as an axe, chopper, or cleaver cuts wood. Bartering is, therefore, a cutting of prices; and when people bandy words, or exchange fine points—”split hairs,” as we say—in argument, they are said to be indulging in “chop-logic.”

Chopping and changing one’s mind, as boys barter their tops for marbles, signifies instability of character, just as, with a veering or unstable wind at sea, the water is said to be “choppy.”

The phrase was much used in pre-Reformation days, in connection with the battering of Church “livings,” and sentences such as the following are frequently found in 5th and 16th-century books:

“You buy and sell, chop and change your ecclesiastical offices as horses at a faire” (1590); “Choppe and chaunge with symonye” (1485). Sterne, in Tristram Shandy, refers to surnames which “in the course of years, have generally undergone as many chops and changes as their owners”; while Captain Marryat, in Jacob Faithful, says: “There were several chops and changes about until the order of precedence could be correctly observed.”

Instability sometimes connotes a healthy dissatisfaction, which may be a stimulus to progress; but one who chops and changes is generally considered to be unreliable and unworthy of one’s confidence.


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