big cheese

[ big-cheez ]
See synonyms for big cheese on
  1. an influential or important person: Who's the big cheese around here?

Origin of big cheese

First recorded in 1910–15; perhaps from cheese3 in the sense “person or thing that is first-rate.” Big cheese is a development from the earlier American term main cheese “important or self-important person” (1899), but it was also influenced by cheese1 in the sense “wheel or cylinder of the dairy food.” In the 19th century huge wheels of cheese were displayed at state and county fairs and as publicity stunts; the idiom “to cut a big cheese,” meaning “to look or act important,” dates from 1919, 20 years later than main cheese Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use big cheese in a sentence

  • A second later he appeared wearing a wig and goatee like Uncle Sam's and carrying a big cheese on a gold plate.

    Bobbie Bubbles | E. Hugh Sherwood and Maud Gridley Budlong
  • Going in, I knocked a big cheese off the counter and stooped to pick it up.

    Jiglets | Walter Jones
  • They kidnaped the hero-symbol, the big cheese, and later killed him.

    Border, Breed Nor Birth | Dallas McCord Reynolds
  • They had loaves of brown bread, a big cheese, and a bunch of onions.

    Nelly's Silver Mine | Helen Hunt Jackson
  • The Montague girl, the last to escape, was seen to announce, "The big cheese is loose—it's eating all the little ones!"

    Merton of the Movies | Harry Leon Wilson

British Dictionary definitions for big cheese

big cheese

  1. slang an important person

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with big cheese

big cheese

Also, big shot or gun or wheel or enchilada. An important, powerful person; the boss. For example, She loved being the big cheese of her company; the big guns in Congress are bound to change the President's bill; you'd better not act like a big shot among your old friends; Harry was the big wheel in his class; and You'll have to get permission from the big enchilada. The first term dates from the late 1800s and its origin is disputed. Some think it comes from the Urdu word chiz or cheez for “thing,” but others hold it plays on the English word “chief.” Big gun is much older, dating from the early 1800s; big shot became very popular in the late 1920s, particularly when used for underworld leaders of gangsters; big wheel dates from about the same period. Big enchilada, often put as the big enchilada, is the newest, dating from the early 1970s.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.