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Talking Cheese: Cheesed Off

cheesed off

In this blog series, intern Julia explores the everyday language surrounding cheese, from etymology to idioms to associations. Learn why we “say cheese” when we take a photo, why once upon a time we believed that the moon was made of green cheese, or even the history of the word cheese itself. Plus, be sure to answer the prompt at the end of the post each week for a chance to win a copy of culture’s ultimate cheese pairing guide: Cheese+ Last week, we debated if cheese has an effect on our dreams. Good luck to everyone this week!


Sometimes, you need a way to express your annoyance. And sometimes, the most appropriate phrase might relate to cheese.

Like many of the idioms and ideas I’ve decided to explore over this blog series, it turns out that the phrase “cheesed” or “cheesed off” probably has nothing to do with my favorite dairy snack.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, my go-to for all things language, “cheesed” can be used to express being exasperated, fed up, disgruntled, or bored. The first printed use of the phrase was in 1941, when a piece in the literary digest Penguin New Writing included the line. “‘I’m browned off,’ announces [the narrator], ‘I’m cheesed.’” (Personally, my favorite citation comes from a short novel published in 1942, The Nine Lives of Bill Nelson: “Two people, both cheesed off, are better than one.”) Unfortunately, the OED is sadly lacking in the area of actual etymology: A little tag after the pronunciation declares “etymology unknown.” (And this unsatisfactory answer is why I’m holding out for “cheesed off” having an as-of-yet-undiscovered origin in cheese!)

One of the definitions of this slang term is actually another slang term, “browned of.” I find defining slang with slang a little unusual, but I’m not complaining – the 1941 citation in the OED puts both “browned off” and “cheesed” in the same quote. Because of that, I’m happy to consider “browned off” a possible precursor to the cheese-y phrase. The entry for “browned off” features a quote from only a few years earlier, 1938, found in a novel called They Drive by Night: “What the hell had he got to be so browned off about? He ought to be feeling proper chirpy.” Rumor has it that “browned off” came from the military, specifically England’s Regular Army, located in India, before the British Royal Air Force adopted the term in the late 1920s, but the OED (nor any other reputable source) can find printed evidence prior to 1938.

Although the OED does not specifically mention it, both “browned off” and “cheesed off” are British. I can’t say I’ve ever heard either phrase aloud, but two quick searches on Twitter reveal that both are still used fairly frequently across the pond. New iterations of “I feel so cheesed off,” featuring myriad grammatical errors, pop up on the Twitter news feed minute to minute.

Feeling cheesed off is no good. What’s your best trick for calming down when you’re annoyed? Answer in the comments section by April 22, 2014 at 12:00 midnight EDT for a chance to win a copy of our upcoming special issue, Cheese+. Next week we’ll be looking at why mice and cheese have such a strong connection!

Photo Credit: TheStaceys1 via Compfight cc

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