Robert and Shelley, Now, being older and wiser than when I posted the above, I can give a more complete answer for CHOPS
and hence DOESN’T HAVE THE CHOPS
. And Shelley, you were right about the expression coming from music, except that the anatomical connection is the mouth (as is also the case with bust my chops
Combining the appropriate definitions from several dictionaries:
1) The oral cavity, mouth, lips, jaw, cheeks, jowls <“old turkey with pendulous chops”> < “open your chops and sing>
2) Music - a) Slang: The embouchure or technique necessary to play a wind instrument; broadly – the technical facility of a musical performer. b) The adjustment of a player's mouth to such a mouthpiece, especially a jazz musicians lips.
[[Note: ‘embouchure’ [1750-60] derives from French, equivalent to ‘embouch(er),’ to put (an instrument) to one’s mouth (‘em-,’ em-, + ‘bouche,’ mouth, from Latin ‘bucca,’ puffed cheek) + ‘-ure,’ -ure.] and means a) the mouthpiece of a wind instrument.]]
3) Slang: [1960s and till in use] Musical technique or ability on an instrument, especially in playing jazz or rock; the technical skill with which a jazz or rock musician performs; technical virtuosity; a jazz singer’s tone or strength of voice
4) Slang: (hence) Talent or skill in general. Expertise in a particular field or activity <acting ‘chops’>
Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang
noun: 1) [18th century and still in use] The jaws, the mouth, the lips. 2) [1940s and still in use] (originally U.S. Black) Ability, skill, competence. [from jazz musicians figurative reference to the use of one’s mouth and lips in playing a wind instrument]
Historical Dictionary of American Slang
(also including OED and other quotes)
[originally dialect and colloquial; cf. early Standard English sense, ‘jaws’]
1a) Now especially Black English: the mouth or lips; (occasionally) teeth.
<1589 “Whose good name can take no staine, from a bishops CHOPPS.”—in OED>
<1939 “Louis . . . silently fingers his valves, while ‘getting his CHOPS set.’”—‘Jazz Talk’ by Gold, page 48>
2a) Jazz: A trumpet players strength of embouchure.
<1947 “He MIGHT NOT HAVE THE CHOPS he used to have, but his ideas were always fine.”—‘Jazz Talk’ by Gold, page 48>
<1962 “You’d need . . . practice to GET YOUR CHOPS . . . BACK.”—‘On Eggshells’ by H. Simmons, page 187>
<1993 “Other’s would have killed to have his [Dizzy Gillespie’s] CHOPS.”—‘Newsweek,’ 18 January, page 39>
2b) Originally Jazz musical ability; (hence) ability or skill of any sort.
<1968 “Maybe you could GET YOUR CHOPS together on this horn.”—‘New Black Voices’ by A. Chapman, page 147>
<1973 “Musicians . . . who like to get together once or twice a week to TRY OUT THEIR CHOPS.”—‘Music My Mistress’ by Duke Ellington, page 247>
<1979 “Those early fears and feelings of musical inadequacy . . . seem now dreamlike . . . ‘He GOT HIS CHOPS BACK.’”—‘Straight Life’ by Pepper & Pepper, page 199>
<1980 “‘I wanted to be a symphony conductor, but realized that I just DIDN’T HAVE THE CHOPS.”—‘Chicago Tribune,’ 16 November, page F47>
<1981 “Even though you HAVEN’T GOT MUCH CHOPS, you have other qualities to create excitement.”—High Times’ by O’Day & Eells, page 52> [[reference to a singer’s tone or strength of voice the in the 1930s]]
<1991 “‘As a matter of fact,’ he said, ‘we don’t teach stand-up comedy as an art form. If you don’t have the chops” — musicians’ parlance for talent — ‘you can only get so far.’”—N.Y. Times,’ 27 October, page 1>
<1994 “‘For another women, it would be difficult. And it’s even worse if you’re a women director who wants to make action films. There’s some sense that a woman just DOESN’T HAVE THE CHOPS.’”—‘N.Y. Times,’ 3 May, page C15>
<1997 “Jim Brooks thinks Hunt has ‘the whole package.’ He cites Katharine Hepburn, an actress equally adept in comedy and drama, a beauty who could play heiress or spinster. Says Brooks: ‘Helen [[actress Helen Hunt]] just might HAVE THOSE CHOPS too.’"—‘Time Magazine,’ 15 December>
<1998 “Doug Conner remarked that this feeling [[that no one realizes the work that goes into making it look easy]] is familiar to every jazz musician: ‘Some people think you’re just up there goofing around—they can’t see the foundations. But you’ve got to HAVE THE CHOPS plus years of experience, and you’re dependent on the good will of all those who came before you.”—in ‘Organizational Science’ – ‘Jazz Improvisation and Organizing,’ Vol. 9, No. 5, September, ;page 573>
<2004 “Thankfully, Winkler showed intelligence by casting Kevin Kline as Porter. He HAS THE CHOPS to pull off a role that requires some semblance of depth.”—‘Miami Herald,’ 16 July
<2005 “If Hollywood hasn't been clued in to Jennifer Lopez's limited range and appeal by now, this one will probably do it. She DOESN’T HAVE THE CHOPS to pull off what's necessary to deliver laughs in this romantic comedy.”–‘Akron Beacon Journal,’ 13 May>
And Shelley, there IS
the AXE factor, but it seems to have come later on:
: [1950s] a) Jazz musicians used this term to refer to any musical instrument, but especially the saxophone [originally from the resemblance in shape between a saxophone and an ax, and possibly from the rhyme with ‘sax.’ Also related to the transferred idea of CHOPS, originally related to a musician’s embouchure, then later often thought of as blows with an ax] <“The piano player noodled on his Ax”.> b) In rock and roll, a guitar.
(Random House and Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionaries, American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam Webster Online, Historical Dictionary of American Slang
, Chapman’s Dictionary of American Slang, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang
Ken G – July 10, 2005