Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Acronyms, Wikipedia.
An important, successful, or influential person. Jacob thinks he's a big cheese now that he's been promoted to assistant manager. I'm the big cheese around here, so you have to do what I say.
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.
a big cheesemainly BRITISH, INFORMAL
If you describe someone as a big cheese, you mean that they have an important and powerful position in an organization. Maire is undoubtedly the big cheese of the Jura wine producers. Several big cheeses from the State Department attended the conference. Note: Big cheese can also be used before a noun. He was a big-cheese divorce lawyer. Note: The word `cheese' in this expression may be a corruption or misunderstanding of the Urdu word `chiz' or `cheez', meaning `thing'. This started being used in English in about 1840 because of the British presence in India. Later the word came to refer to a person or boss.
a big cheesean important and influential person. informal
Other versions of this phrase substitute fish , gun , noise , shot , or wheel for cheese . These are mainly self-explanatory, with the exception of cheese itself, which is of doubtful origin but may be from Persian and Urdu chiz meaning ‘thing’. As a phrase, big cheese seems to have originated in early 20th-century US slang, as did big noise. Big wheel in this metaphorical sense (as opposed to the fairground ride known as a Ferris wheel) and big shot are similarly US in origin (mid 20th century). Big fish may have connotations either of something it is desirable for you to catch or of the metaphorical expression a big fish in a small pond .
n. the boss; the key figure; the leader. Here’s a note from the big cheese telling me to come in for a chat.
big cheese, the
The boss, an important person; also, a self-important person. This term is a slangy Americanism dating from the late nineteenth century, and its etymology is disputed. Some believe it comes from the Persian or Urdu word chiz or cheez for “thing”; others believe it is simply a play on the English word chief. There are several synonymous usages, among them big gun, big shot, and big wheel. The first dates from the 1830s. An 1834 citation has it, “The big guns of the nation are there [in Washington].” The last two expressions both date from the 1930s.
See also: big
A very important person. The phrase seems to have come from, literally, a very large wheel of cheese. After President Jefferson was given one of Cheshire in 1802, other dairies made and displayed huge wheels for publicity purposes. The cheeses attracted lots of attention, and so it wasn't much of a jump to referring to someone who attracted attention as a “big cheese.” Although some have suggested that “cheese” came from the Hindu word “chiz,” for “thing” that the British heard as “cheese,” no paper trail exists to show that Americans started using the phrase though any transatlantic connection. Similar “big” phrases are more common, such as big deal and big wheel.