What does the idiom "big cheese" mean?

The expression big cheese is one of the idioms that often finds a place in our literature and enriches our language. However, its meaning is not fully understood, so it is sometimes used in the wrong situations. Please review the explanation carefully for the correct use of the big cheese idiom.

Meaning of "big cheese"


The phrase 'big cheese' is used to describe a person in a position of power or influence, someone who is important and influential in a certain sphere of life. It is often used to refer to someone in politics, business, or cultural influence, as well as someone who is well respected within their field. The phrase also carries a connotation of privilege, as it implies a person's stature is based on their wealth and standing in society.


The phrase 'big cheese' dates back to the late 19th century, when it was first popularized in the United States. The origin of the phrase is uncertain, but there are several theories regarding its etymology. The most prevalent theory is that the phrase derives from the Hindi word 'chiz,' meaning 'thing.' This theory suggests that when Hindi immigrants traveled to the United States, they used 'chiz' to refer to important people, as they would have been seen as 'big things' or 'big cheeses' in their new country. The phrase may also derive from the Yiddish term 'cheder cheese,' which refers to a small wheel of cheese which was used to pay school fees.


The phrase 'big cheese' is most commonly used in informal conversation or colloquial English, often with humorous intent. It is almost always used to describe a person in a positive light, implying that they are powerful, influential and important. In some contexts, it is also used to describe someone in a condescending way, suggesting that their power or influence is not genuine. It can also be used to refer to someone in a humorous way when they are not actually of high standing.

Example Sentences

  • My boss is the big cheese around the office; everyone knows him.
  • The new mayor is really the big cheese in town; no one makes a decision without consulting him.
  • He may think he's the big cheese, but I'm not impressed with his arrogance.

The meanings of the words in the "big cheese" idiom

Beyond the Literal: Figurative Language in Idioms

Idioms often use figurative language to convey a message that is not meant to be taken literally. For instance, the idiom "bite the bullet" means to endure a painful or difficult situation without complaint, while "hold your horses" means to be patient and wait. Other idioms, like "kick the bucket" or "pop your clogs," use euphemisms to talk about death.


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