Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘the whole cheese’

Whole Cheese

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 19, 2017

In the 1939 Bulldog Drummond movie “Secret Police” Aunt Blanche (played by Elizabeth Patterson) asks Gwen Clavering (played by Heather Angel) if she’s sure about marrying Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond (played by John Howard). Gwen’s response is that Hugh Drummond is the whole cheese.

The expression whole cheese means that person is the real deal and not an imitation of what one perceives the person to be. The whole cheese, however, should not be mistaken for the big cheese who is an important, influential person. In other words, a person who is the whole cheese may also be a big cheese, but a big cheese isn’t always the whole cheese.

What cheese has to be with being the real deal is something that isn’t as easy to track down however.

From the news article titled “Those Cotton Associations” published on 1 February 1906 in both the Dallas Southern Mercury newspaper and the Farmers Union Password, the whole cheese is mentioned in an article about Colonel E.S. Peters, Vice-President of the Texas Cotton Growers’ Protective Association.

Col. E. S. Peters of Calvert served with distinguished honors for a number of years as “the Texas Cotton Growers’ Protective Association.” The Colonel was just about “the whole cheese.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: Colonel E.S. Peters’ plantation was in the Brazos Valley, near Calvert, TX. In 1900, boll-weevils were threatening the cotton industry in Texas which supplied nearly 25% of the cotton worldwide. The Peters Plantation allowed entomologists to experiment on his land as it was in the most seriously affected portion of the boll-weevil territory. As a result, the experiments proved successful, and a full report was submitted by Congressman Slayden to the House Committee on Agriculture on December 17, 1903

In the September 6, 1904 edition of the Rat Portage Miner and News, a Letter to the Editor about Louis Hilliard’s farm was submitted and published.  Louis Hilliard’s farm was 180 acres in size with 70 acres already being farmed and another 40 acres of swamp land cleared and good to go. The writer of the letter felt this way about Rat Portage overall.

We think Rat Portage is the whole cheese, and that we are progressive and actually “up-to-date”. But as a matter of fact we have a bad attack of dry rot. Some of us have been here for twenty-four years, and I only know of two who have risked planting trees outside their fences, that is Messrs. Hose and Gerrie, and they have had to sit up nights to protect them from cattle.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Rat Portage was renamed Kenora (Ontario) in April 1905 against the wishes of taxpayers and without a vote for the name change being put to the voters. In fact, the taxpayers insisted that it be noted in the records that the change in name from Rat Portage to Kenora was done so “entirely against the will and wish of the majority of ratepayers to the town and by representations to the Lieutenant-Governor that were misleading.”

IMPORTANT NOTE 3: Rat Portage had its origins in the Ojibwa name Waszuch Onigum that means portage to the country of the muskrats. As with many town names, it became colloquially known as Rat Portage. In 1892, an informal vote was held to decide if the town’s name should be changed. The name Rat Portage won out over other suggestions including Sultana (after the name of the largest gold mine on Lake of the Woods) and Sabaskong as well as Island City, Pequonga, and Lakeside.

During the U.S. Presidential Election of 1900 where President William McKinley (with running mate Theodore Roosevelt) ran against William Jennings Bryan, a lot was said about the two candidates vying for the highest office in the land. On 5 March 1900, Private Hambleton wrote to Sergeant Beverly Daley, and stated the following:

Of course, there are some boys who think Bryan is the whole cheese, but they don’t say too much.

On 23 September 1898, the article “Ward Conventions: Republicans Name Candidates for Justices and Constables” appeared in the Salt Lake Herald of Salt Lake City.  There seemed to be quite a bit of interest in the motions and amendments and amendments to amendments at this convention.  I have no idea who Mr. Bonetti or Mr. Post were, and I don’t know who Joe Cottle was, but they seemed to have stirred things up quite a bit in the time they were at this convention.

Bonetti, who had been appointed sergeant-at-arms, was fain to cry, “Ladies and gentlemen, behave yourselves,” which they did, and after a discussion, a motion, two amendments and an amendment to the amendment to the amendment, offered by Joe Cottle, who was apparently the whole cheese, a collection was taken up and $10.35 raised which was confided to the car of Mr Post who placed the amount down in the deepest pocket he had and took a station near the door, where he could readily escape.

An untitled item in the Dallas Southern Mercury of 7 July 1898 found its way into the newspaper nearly three months earlier.  Sometimes the smallest mentions share the most interesting details.

The Democrats are having a hot time in Pennsylvania. Harrity has his war clothes and is determined to prove to Jim Jones that Jim Guffy is not the whole cheese in that State. The fight is a bitter one, and the aureate statesman has decided to give Guffy the “hottest shot he has in the shop.”

The use of the word cheese to indicate the best dates back to a mention in “The London Guide” in 1818 where the word used as slang is said to mean “the fashion, the best, the correct thing.”

Between 1818 and 1898, the word cheese in this context crops up often including in “The Clockmaker: The Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick of Slickville” by Canadian author and Nova Scotia politician Thomas Chandler Haliburton (17 December 1796 – 27 August 1865), published in 1835. In Chapter XIV, the author writes:

Whatever is the go in Europe will soon be the cheese here.

It also shows up in the story “Codlingsby” by British satirist and author William Makepeace Thackeray (18 July 1811 – 24 December 1863), published in 1850 in the his collection of stories titled, “Burlesques.” At one point, Godfrey de Bouillon, Marquis of Codlingsby, and Rafael Mendoza enter the outer shop of an old mansion on Holywell Street. They observe a medical student trying on an outfit for the masquerade to be held later that night when the following exchange is overheard.

“You look like a prince in it, Mr. Lint,” pretty Rachel said, coaxing him with her beady black eyes.

“It is the cheese,” replied Mr. Lint; “it ain’t the dress that don’t suit, my rose of Sharon; it’s the figure. Hullo, Rafael, is that you, my lad of sealing-wax? Come and intercede for me with this wild gazelle; she says I can’t have it under fifteen bob for the night. And it’s too much: cuss me if it’s not too much, unless you’ll take my little bill at two months, Rafael.”

Idiomation therefore pegs the expression the whole cheese to the late 1890s, with about ninety years of between cheese and the whole cheese.  Before anyone gets the wrong idea, cheesy isn’t as nice a reference as cheese or whole cheese, but that’s something to research for another Idiomation entry at some later date in the near future.

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