What Does The Big Cheese Mean?

The Big Cheese Meaning

Definition: An important person.

The big cheese describes any person in a position of importance. Most often, it is used to describe a boss at work. Not just any boss could be the big cheese—a middle manager would not have enough leadership clout. This phrase is reserved for the top executives in an organization.

Someone with a lot of knowledge may also be the big cheese. A presenter or public speaker may be described as the big cheese in his field because of his ability to teach others.

Origin of The Big Cheese

the big cheese ChicagoThis phrase comes from the late-1800s. The word cheese by itself had previously been used to describe something that was of top quality. The phrase was fairly common.

However, this phrase most likely comes from a misinterpretation of Urdu phrases and their adoption into English when the British colonized India.

In Urdu, the word chiz means a thing. When the British colonized India, they began to use the phrase the real chiz. This meant that something was a big, exciting event. Over time, the phrase evolved into the big cheese, meaning an important person.

Examples of The Big Cheese

define big cheeseHere are a few examples where this phrase might be used in everyday conversation.

When Paul earned a promotion at his company, his coworkers congratulated him, telling him that now he was the big cheese.

Other workers may be afraid of looking unproductive around their bosses. They may goof off at work sometimes, but when the main executives come to visit, they will act serious for the big cheeses.

Someone may save up money to go to a conference and hear speakers on a topic of interest. While they may enjoy the speakers leading up to the headliner, they will really be looking forward to hearing the big cheese speak the most!

More Examples

  • He’s the big cheese: how a Frenchman became the cheese king of Katmandu… –LA Times
  • a Spring Creek Elementary School student become known as the “big cheese” at her school. –Orlando Sentinel


The big cheese is an important person, usually a boss or someone in a position of authority.