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The meaning and origin of the expression: Chop and change

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Chop and change

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Chop and change'?

To change one's mind or action again and again.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Chop and change'?

Hit the nail on the headChop is a now archaic word which has been used for centuries to mean 'change suddenly' (see chop-chop).

Some have suggested that the expression 'chop and change' derives from the habit of Henry VIII of divorcing and executing his wives. They were, as the rhyme goes, 'divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived'.

In fact, the phrase is earlier than Henry VIII, although not much earlier. It dates from 1485, the year that Henry's father Henry VII came to the English throne.

The first printed example of 'chop and change' that we have is from the Digby Mysteries, which was printed in 1485:

"I choppe and chaunge with symonye, and take large yiftes."

Robert Greene's The Blacke Bookes Messenger - The Life and death of Ned Browne, a notable Cutpurse and Conny-catcher [thief and cheat], 1592, makes the meaning explicit:

...in casting mine eye on a pretty wench, a mans wife well knowne about London, I fell in loue with her ... whereuppon her husband, a kind Knaue, and one euerie way as base a companion as my selfe, agreed to me, and we bet a bargaine, that I should haue his Wife, and he should haue mine ... so wee like two good Horse-corsers, made a choppe and change.