Big Cheese – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a friendly way to call your boss, the most important person in the business? If so, you could use the expression “big cheese.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.

Meaning

Calling someone a “big cheese” means you’re calling them the most important person in the room or venue. It’s a common way to describe someone important, famous, or wealthy. You could also use it to describe someone important to you.

For instance, if your three-year-old is trotting around the house telling people what to do, you could call them the “big cheese” of the household. If your boss is coming into work later, you could tell everyone that the “big cheese” is coming into the office.

Example Usage

“What time do you think the big cheese is going to arrive? We better have the office straightened out by then, or we’re all in for a warning.”

“Look at Michael over there acting like a big cheese, someone needs to cut him down to size, and I think it’s going to have to be me.”

“So, you think you’re a real big cheese, hey? Well, let’s see how you handle things when I’m not around anymore.”

“Kyle is a big cheese; according to everyone else in the chat, let’s try and get on his team to get the best chance of winning the tournament.”

Origin

The expression “big cheese” originates from the early 20th century. At the time, farmers would host cheese shows to display their biggest and most impressive cheese wheels to the public.

An advert in the “Decatur Daily Review,” from November 1903, reads as follows in the caption, “Don’t Forget To Come And See The Big Cheese.”

The first written reference to using the “big cheese” to describe a wealthy or famous person comes from the book, “Unprofessional Servant,” written by William Sydney Porter in 1910. It reads as follows.

“Del had crawled from some Tenth Avenue basement like a lean rat and had bitten his way into the Big Cheese… He had danced his way into fame in sixteen minutes.”

Another rendition of the phrase referring to wealth and fame comes from “The Olean Evening Times,” in June 1922, in a column titled, “In honour of the Mayor of Olean,” where it reads as follows.

“The big mayor of Olean fair, You’re the big cheese on the scene.”

Phrases Similar to Big Cheese

  • Big kahuna.
  • Big enchilada.
  • Head honcho.

Phrases Opposite to Big Cheese

  • Peasant.
  • Bum.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • The big cheese.

Ways People May Say Big Cheese Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with the size of cheese or anything to do with cheese. The term is another way of saying “the big kahuna,” or another empowering phrase that makes the other person feel valued.

Using it to describe someone’s involvement with dairy products would be incorrect. However, you could call the owner of a cheese processing company a “big cheese” in reference to his position at the company and among his peers in business.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Big Cheese

You can call someone a “big cheese” when you want to make them feel empowered or when you want to make them feel like an idiot. It’s all about the context in how you use it, and the moniker can apply to anyone.

For instance, you could call your boss the big cheese on campus or call your 8-month old baby the big cheese of the household. The big cheese is still a common word, and you probably hear it in media and social conversation all the time.

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