A Good Library


Big Cheese – English Idiom: Definition, Meaning, Examples

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on reddit
Share on mix
Share on pocket
Share on telegram
Share on tumblr
Share on email
Share on skype
Share on whatsapp

When someone says ‘Big Cheese’, what comes to your mind? Pizza? Tom & Jerry? Weight gain? I have read this term a lot of times across myriad books. Even in their titles! Take “Garfield the Big Cheese” by Jim Davis, for example. Then, there is “The Big Cheese of Third Street” by Laurie Halse Anderson and David Gordon. So, what does BIG CHEESE mean? 

In English, Big Cheese is an idiom used for an important, successful, or influential person. Example: “Rony’s sister is a big cheese at the company. She might help you with an internship.”  Here, the phrase big cheese is used to state that Rony’s sister is a big deal in her company.

The roots of this term lie in Urdu. Huh. Surprised much? Keep reading. There is a lot more going on with this Big Cheese of a term. 


What is meant by ‘Big Cheese’?

‘Big Cheese’ can also be used before a noun.

Synonyms of ‘Big Cheese’

Antonyms of ‘Big Cheese’

Origin of Big Cheese

Examples of Big Cheese

Final Thoughts

What is meant by ‘Big Cheese’?

The term ‘Big Cheese’ is a noun. ‘Big cheese’, by definition, describes any person who is at a higher, influential, or powerful position. The phrase is widely used in the context of corporate settings to address top-level executives. 

So, the next time your friend gets promoted and becomes your intractable boss, say – 

“Jimmy has changed a lot ever since he got promoted. He is apparently the big cheese now!” 

Let’s consider another example – 

“The Prime Minister’s big cheese speech moved everybody and filled their hearts with enthusiasm.”

Here, the phrase depicts the influencing power of the prime minister.

But wait! Wasn’t Big Cheese supposed to be a noun? What’s the deal with Big Cheese speech?

‘Big Cheese’ can also be used before a noun. 

Big cheese producer 

Big cheese doctor 

Big cheese lawyer 



Big cheese cheese manufacturer 

The big cheese business leader donated $1 million for the school’s welfare.

“Monica’s father is a big cheese lawyer in the upstate and she is proud of his loyalty towards his work.“

To sum it up, here is what ‘Big Cheese’ means – 

  • an important person
  • an influential person
  • a successful person
  • a person whose actions and opinions strongly influence the course of events
  • Someone with a lot of knowledge
  • A presenter or public speaker

Synonyms of ‘Big Cheese’ 

Here are some terms similar to the big cheese. All of these phrases describe an important or influential person. 

  • big deal
  • big enchilada
  • big fish
  • big gun
  • big shot
  • big wheel
  • head honcho
  • personage

Antonyms of ‘Big Cheese’ 

These are some near antonyms of ‘Big Cheese’: 

  • Nobody (noun)
  • Nonentity
  • Inferior 
  • Subordinate
  • Underling
  • Mediocre
  • obscurity
  • Nought/Naught
  • Zero
  • Goose egg
  • Aught
  • Zilch
  • Nothing

Origin of the phrase ‘Big Cheese

The origin of Big Cheese goes back to the 19th century when O. Henry penned down this phrase in Unprofessional Servant, 1910. He described big cheese as wealth or fame. The meaning that we know today came a little later in 1922 from The Olean Evening Times, June 1922 in ‘In honor of the Mayor of Olean’.


Also, when England had farming as the main occupation, this phrase was coined denoting something important and good for super. With time, different professions brought more words like shot, gun, fish, and wheel in the place of cheese.

Examples of Big Cheese

  • All big cheese from the industry attended the award ceremony.
  • He became big cheese in the topmost company after he moved out of the last one.
  • Geller is not the big cheese, but still, people come to him for professional advice.
  • Amy followed her passion for writing, and now, she is a big cheese in an editorial company.
  • Bob was a big cheese in high school. Students always asked for his assistance.
  • I am the big cheese here! Why didn’t you follow the method I told you? 

Here are some more examples from the printed media: 

“Hermes may be a big cheese in the world of luxury goods, but in the world of Swiss watchmaking it is something of an outsider.”

  • BBC

“Cheddar Inc. wants to be the big cheese on campus.” 

  • WSJ

“Whisps Cheese Crisps on the hunt for its next ‘big cheese” 

  • Bakeryandsnacks.com

“London business getting to be a big cheese in vegan food sector, launches in U.S. market”

  • The London Free Press

“A little cheese and a lot of creativity helped a Spring Creek Elementary School student become known as the “big cheese” at her school.”

  • Orlando Sentinel

“He’s the big cheese: How a Frenchman became the cheese king of Katmandu”

  • Los Angeles Times

“The team of ‘little chiefs’ has grown to 10 people, with a view to recruit more this year to deal with the demands of the business. Set up by Hayley Harthern, aka ‘the big chief’, and supported by the knowledge and expertise of her father, aka ‘the big cheese’, the company is now looking to grow throughout the UK by setting up a number of franchises in popular hot spots.”

  • The Guardian

And, here is an example from English Literature: 

“Del had crawled from some Tenth Avenue basement like a lean rat and had bitten his way into the Big Cheese… He had danced his way into fame in sixteen minutes.”

  • O. Henry

Even the scholars use the term “Big Cheese” in their work: 

“Developing the Big Cheese: Creating a skilled cohort of faculty technology leaders”

  • Meredith Keller, Regis College, United States

“The Big Cheese Controls the Pie” 

Final Thoughts

Although kind of fun, Big Cheese is a big cheese term in itself. The impact of colonization on the English language has been a topic of research for scholars. “Big Cheese” exemplifies Indian influence on English. 

There are many such rather fun (and tasty!) terms, phrases, and idioms in English. We will cover them soon. If you have a special request, feel free to write to us! 

Did you find this article helpful?

Join our no-spam newsletter & find much more interesting (& very useful) stuff in your inbox!

Subscribe Here

The Newsletter

Wisdom of both worlds – Literature & Philosophy… 

About Me

Jui Shirvalkar-Chandurkar

Founder, A Good Library

Documenting my study notes in this cute little study library here!

Know more about me here

You can also connect with me on my Studygram – 


Popular Tags