I remember Cobra (1986) and Razor Ramon from WWE.

They both chew either toothpicks or match-sticks.

What was the reason?

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  • 7
    The habit dates back a lot longer than that. At least as far as Casablanca.
    – Chenmunka
    Apr 8, 2022 at 12:58
  • 6
    For the same reason that Bugs Bunny chews carrots.
    – Judith
    Apr 8, 2022 at 13:02
  • 1
    This question makes me want to watch They Live again
    – N. Virgo
    Apr 9, 2022 at 1:03
  • 1
    Does this only apply US tough guys? Tough guys from other countries aren't normally portrayed as having any oral fixation unless they want to be an imitation of US tough guys. In Spaghetti westerns, they chew cigars and can sometimes switch from one side to the other.
    – cup
    Apr 9, 2022 at 8:18
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    I believe this is a sign of ”tough guy”-ness in the sense someone only really needs a toothpick if they have eaten food that gunks up their teeth. Knowing how the poor and weak don’t eat as much as the tough and well to do, one can assume chewing a toothpick indicates: “Yeah, I eat meat regularly. The fibers clog up my teeth. I use a toothpick regularly because I just am so tough and well to do I eat that much meat on the regular. So back off, buddy!” Apr 10, 2022 at 15:58

3 Answers 3


My recollection is that chewing toothpicks, as a stereotype, was for farmers, carnival workers, oil roughnecks and other extreme blue-collar hicks.

A soldier chewing on a toothpick signals that he's not some college-boy officer, and not even some factory worker from the Bronx. He's probably a country boy. He was an expert shot with his daddy's rifle at 12 years old and knows jungle survival because he grew up in a bayou. But after dodging the revenuer who's after his moonshine still, he doesn't have much respect for authority -- a real renegade. I realize that's a lot of work for one toothpick.

Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) is a little different, but similar. His original wrestling character was a Florida boy who wrestled 'gators -- a toothpick chewer if I ever saw one. He started the gimmick while playing a sexy bad guy. But we can see the problem in this match where a young woman is very excited to be allowed to rip off his pants. We can't have too many women cheering for him, so need strong signals that he's the bad guy. Thus, greased-back hair and a toothpick stuck in his mouth to show that he's low-class (and flicking it at people is a fun gimmick).


That’s a very common trope in movies known as “Oral Fixation.” It's not even limited to toothpick and matchsticks either, but also show straws, lollipops, etc.

Mostly presented to make your character look cool or badass and also a safer option than smoking as there are smoking rules in many countries too.

Alternative addiction people do exist in real life, too, and get fixated with something which doesn't harm or harms them less, like coffee instead of alcohol, or something chewable instead of cigarettes. There is even a TV trope link for that.

  • 5
    This feels like a circular definition: tough guys chew things because authors make them chew things to look tough. Equally frustrating, TVTropes describes it as an "oral fixation," which seems like it would be a character weakness. Maybe I misunderstand OP's question, but it seems like the question might be rephrased as "why is chewing things a sign of toughness?"
    – Tom
    Apr 9, 2022 at 0:04
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    @Tom Wanting to appear “tough” makes sense as a character weakness to me. The appearance of strength and strength are not the same things. And often those who work hard to try to appear a certain way are at least subconsciously aware that they don’t actually possess the traits they with they did, hence their desire to appear that way. Finally, a lot of tropes are “circular”. It’s a trope because it appears a lot and it appears a lot because it’s a trope. That’s everywhere in human culture. It’s like some celebrities are famous for being famous. Apr 9, 2022 at 7:46
  • typo: "trope", not "troop". Apr 10, 2022 at 3:28
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    @Tom: Circular things can grow out of emulating one or two very famous things, and eventually be self-sustaining. e.g. what movie sound effect tells the audience to look for an eagle? The cry of a red-tailed hawk, because it's been going on for so long that's what movie audiences expect, and they probably wouldn't recognize a real eagle call. Presumably someone did it once and liked it, and it just caught on. Apr 10, 2022 at 3:32

The reason seems obvious: "I eat you raw! All of ya!" A sign of power. Be it Kojak sucking his lollypop or dirty Harry eating his cigar. Or Buggs Bunny his carrot, for that matter. Quite sexy, actually...

  • 3
    Bugs Bunny's carrot-munching is actually a parody of a scene from the film It Happened One Night, rather than an attempt to make Bugs look tough. I'm unsure of the context behind that original scene, though.
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 10, 2022 at 15:22

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