The expression chomping at the bit, also rendered as champing at the bit, refers to a noticeable eagerness, especially when prompted by frustration or impatience. A movie buff may use the term when eager to see a critically acclaimed blockbuster movie, or a computer geek could be chomping at the bit to try out a new operating system. The person may be barely able to control himself or herself until the opportunity to take action arises. There may only be a few minor details or regulations standing between a person and the thing he or she cannot wait to possess. The frustration at being artificially restrained at the very last minute can be compared to an animal struggling at the end of a leash or chain.
In fact, the expression can be traced back to the equestrian world. In the world of horses, a bit is a small metal rod attached to a harness or bridle. This metal bit fits inside a natural space within the horse's mouth. The bit serves several purposes, from discouraging the horse from eating wild grasses to guiding his or her head while connected to the reins. A horse will instinctively chew and bite at the metallic bit as long as it remains inside its mouth. The words champ or chomp both refer to the distinctive sound of a horse chewing and biting on the bit. Either "champ" or "chomp" is considered correct in modern English, although "champ" does have a longer etymological history.
The association with frustration and anxiety can be traced back to horse racing. Race horses often become conditioned to anticipate the beginning of a sanctioned race, and it is not unusual for an especially anxious or frustrated horse to begin chomping at the bit while under restraint in the starting gate. The horse may also struggle to break out or become clearly agitated at the delay. When a person becomes overwhelmed by feelings of frustration or anxiety, he or she could also be described using the same term. The anticipation can often build to a fever pitch before the horse is released from the gate or the child is released to the Christmas tree. The pent-up frustration and anxiety is often replaced with a realization that the actual event or gadget is not equal to the level of hype or anticipation.
A person who is chomping at the bit to begin a new project or test a new product may experience an emotional letdown after the initial excitement phase, but at least he or she has demonstrated the ability to become passionate and emotionally connected to an innovative or exciting development.