Friday, February 8, 2013

Urdu Word in English: Cheese

Did you know "the cheese," a.k.a. "the real cheese," also "the real chiz" has nothing to do with diary products? This British use of "cheese" is most likely from Persian chiz (a thing, something) via Urdu, and it was thus in India that it passed into British usage in the early 19th century. The Brits sometimes spelled it "the real chiz" but more often "the real cheese," and so "the real (Urdu) thing" became part of the English language. The real cheese.

Meanwhile, the phrase "big cheese" meaning an important person (even a self-important person) is an American usage, apparently influenced by very large cheese wheels from Wisconsin created as publicity stunts.

More on this delightful etymological confluence here at WorldWideWords.

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