The listener could have complained that "chomping at the bit" is a cliché, and that it's one we've used at least three times so far this month. But his gripe was more specific — that we should have said "champing at the bit."
To the dictionary we go:
Webster's says "champ at the bit" is to "show impatience at restraint; be restless." It comes from something said about horses when they bite their bits "repeatedly and restlessly." They "champ."
That fits with what we were trying to say this week about President Obama and his eagerness to get out on the campaign trail.
The AP says "champ at the bit" is "the original and better form."
But, Webster's adds that "chomp at the bit" is a variation.
What's more, no less an authority than William Safire weighed in 31 years ago, saying that "to spell it champing at the bit when most people would say chomping at the bit is to slavishly follow outdated dictionary preferences."
The Grammarist blog also comes down on the side of "chomping." It points out that "champing at the bit can sound funny to people who aren't familiar with the idiom or the obsolete sense of champ, while most English speakers can infer the meaning of chomping at the bit."
We've been ... itching to issue a note about some picky point of punctuation or grammar. After chewing on this one for a while, we're not going to insist on "champing." Feel free to use it. After all, you'll score points with the lexicographers out there.
But "chomping" is fine.
Fine, that is, except for the fact that it is a cliché. As for them:
Let's Toss 'Hat In The Ring' Into The Cliché Round File