big cheese

[ big-cheez ]
/ ˈbɪg ˈtʃiz /

noun Slang.

an influential or important person: Who's the big cheese around here?

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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
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

British Dictionary definitions for big cheese

big cheese

noun

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

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.