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Being big cheese

“I thought you were going to spend time with some important person from your Delhi office. Weren’t you planning to take him to your...?”

“It’s a her, actually. She wants to see our new office tomorrow. My boss’ instructions were to do whatever the big cheese told me to.”

“Big cheese? What are you talking about?”

“The expression ‘big cheese’ is used in informal contexts to refer to an important person in an organisation. He or she is very influential.”

“I see. My cousin Anil is a big cheese in the company he works for.”

“I’m told Sangeetha is likely to become a big cheese in Reliance.”

“That’s great! Tell me about this expression big cheese. Why cheese?”

“It has nothing to do with the cheese we eat. Some scholars believe that the English took the Hindi expression ‘bada cheez’ meaning ‘big thing’ and changed it to ‘big cheese’.”

“That’s interesting. Is the big cheese staying in some fancy hotel?”

“Yes. Apparently, she’s been travelling a lot of late. Said that she’s been practically living out of a suitcase for the past four months.”

“What do you mean by ‘living out of a suitcase’? Never heard that expression before.”

“The expression is mostly used to refer to someone who is constantly travelling or moving from one place to another. He doesn’t have the time to unpack, and...”

“He merely grabs whatever is there in his suitcase.”

“Exactly! Clementine’s husband keeps changing jobs every two months. She says that they’ve been living out of a suitcase for nearly a year now.”

“That’s tough. So how long is the big cheese here?”

“I think it’s a two-week visit. After that, she...”

“Two week visit? You mean two weeks visit, don’t you?”

“No, it’s ‘two-week visit’ because ‘week’ here is functioning as an adjective and not as a noun. The washing machine comes with a four-year warranty. Not four years.”

“I plan to run the twenty-mile marathon. I think I understand now. Is the big cheese unhappy with all the travelling?”

“No. When she took the job, she knew she’d have to live out of a suitcase for a while.”

“What’s she like? Is she well liked by the people in your company? I mean...”

“People who work under her like her a lot. They say she’s squeaky clean.”

“Squeaky clean? Does it mean very clean?”

“Yes, that’s one of the meanings. When you say that someone’s house was squeaky clean, you mean it was very clean. You couldn’t find dirt anywhere.”

“Some important clients are coming for dinner tonight. My mother wants the plates and glasses to be squeaky clean.”

“That’s a good example. When the expression is used with people, it means someone who is upstanding; someone who hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“In other words, an honest individual. Someone who doesn’t take advantage of his position.”

“Exactly! The newly appointed DIG has a squeaky clean image.”

“Most people would say no politician has a squeaky clean image.”

“My boss has the reputation of being squeaky clean.”

“I’m not so sure about that!”

* * *

People think that being famous is so glamorous, but half the time you’re in a strange hotel living out of a suitcase. — Ja Rule

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Printable version | Oct 9, 2021 3:24:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/Being-big-cheese/article16668324.ece

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