The Meaning of Chalk It Up: What It Is and How To Use It

This guide will give you all of the info you need on the phrase chalk it up, including its meaning, origin, example sentences, and more!

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What does the phrase chalk it up mean?

Chalk it up is an English language phrasal verb that means to ascribe or credit, according to Merriam-Webster English Dictionary. This phrase is used to link an event that has occurred to a specific reason or set of circumstances.

While credit or ascribe is the most common meaning, this term can also mean to attain, or to achieve, or to add to a tally, according to The Free Dictionary. More frequently, this is not seen as “chalk it up,” but “chalk up,” i.e. “The team played well and managed to chalk up another win.” Different participles of the verb are “chalking up,” “chalked up,” “chalk one up,” and “chalk something up.”

Many people misuse these phrases as “chock it up.” This is incorrect. According to Washington State University, one may “chock” a vehicle that is parked on an incline by putting a wedge, called a chock, behind its wheels. This cannot be used in the same way as “chalk it up.” Common phrases that include the word “chock” are “chock-full,” which means completely and totally full, and “chock-a-block,” which means at maximum capacity, according to Grammarist.

What are synonyms for the phrase chalk it up?

With regard to the common meaning of “chalk it up,” meaning “to credit,” Thesaurus  and Word Hippo list the following synonyms:

  • Credit to
  • Ascribe to
  • Refer to
  • Defer to
  • Impute
  • Lay
  • Attribute to
  • Charge to
  • Set down 
  • Accredit
  • Pin on
  • Blame
  • Lay at the door of
  • Associate with
  • Hold responsible for
  • Trace to
  • Stick on
  • Pin on

The phrase “chalk up” can also mean to gain or achieve something. The following are synonyms for this meaning:

  • Achieve
  • Gain
  • Score
  • Win 
  • Attain
  • Bag
  • Log
  • Make
  • Rack up
  • Ring up
  • Collect
  • Earn
  • Get
  • Obtain
  • Tally
  • Secure
  • Accomplish
  • Acquire
  • Procure
  • Land

What is the origin of the phrase chalk it up?

According to Tech Target and Washington State University, the phrase “chalk it up” originated with making bar tabs and scores on the chalkboard inside pubs and bars. Here, it meant to “give credit” literally – one’s debits and credits were listed right in front of them. Nowadays, the phrase takes on a more figurative, general meaning.

This also related to the phrase’s second meaning of tallying or achieving something. A barkeep could “chalk up” another drink on someone’s tab, thereby adding an additional sum to the tally. While this may have dismayed barhoppers, nowadays “chalking up” something – especially a victory – is positive!

Stack Exchange states that the phrase was listed in a book called Slang and Its Analogues from the year 1890. Here, the phrase was stated to mean “to credit, or put on one’s account.” This indicates the root from a barkeep’s tally on a chalkboard. This book credits the phrase’s first written usage to the year 1597, in which someone remarked, “All my debts stande chaukt upon the poste for liquor.” Here, the author states clearly that his debts have been written on the bartender’s board.

The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms states that using the phrase to mean “to tally,” or “to gain” has been in use from the 1700s, whereas using the term to mean “to credit” or “to ascribe” has been in the English vernacular since the early to mid-1900s.

How can chalk it up be used in a sentence?

The phrase chalk it up can be used in a couple of different ways based on its two definitions. In this first example, the phrase will be used to mean “to credit, or to attribute.”

Lenna and Dean are coworkers who are discussing the new receptionist at their company, who is not off to a great start.

Lenna: What do you think of the new receptionist? He walked in one one of my important meetings looking for napkins. I couldn’t believe it.

Dean: I know. He brought my lunch to my desk – which was super nice of him – but then he dropped the fork on the floor, wiped it on his shirt and handed it to me. I couldn’t believe it.

Lenna: He’s young. I’m going to chalk it up to inexperience and keep an open mind. Maybe he’ll get better with time.

Dean: Here’s hoping.

Here, Lenna uses the phrase “chalk it up” to mean that she is going to give the receptionist the benefit of the doubt, and attributes the receptionist’s lack of professionalism to inexperience. 

In this next example, the phrase “chalk up” will mean to tally, or to rack up. Annie and Aiden each have children on soccer teams in the area. Annie’s daughter plays for an elite team, while Aiden’s son plays for a lower level team.

Aiden: How did your tournament on Saturday go?

Annie: Really well! Nora’s team chalked up another four wins! This should make them a shoe-in for the finals. How about Sam’s team?

Aiden: We chalked up another four losses. On the bright side, he’s getting really good at handling disappointment,

Here, Annie and Aiden both use the phrase “chalk up” to mean tally, or rack up, regarding wins and losses for each soccer team.

Overall, the phrase “chalk it up” means to attribute or credit. The phrase has a secondary meaning that is more often seen as “chalk up,” which means to achieve or gain something. This is a common phrase that can be used in a variety of circumstances. While it may not be appropriate to use in technical writing, the phrase is considered fairly polite and can be used in most situations.