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Picture of wordmatic
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Well, I see by a search that this is my second cheese-related question. My husband and I were just discussing whether it was a good idea to feed the dog cheese. I said "no." He said, "Hard cheese." Then he asked what the origin of the phrase was. I looked it up and found the following on Word Detective:
quote:
"Hard cheese" is a classic British catch phrase that means essentially "tough luck" or "too bad." It can be used both as an expression of sympathy ("Hedgehog took your leg right off, did he? Hard cheese, old man.") and as a dismissive retort ("Don't like your gruel, boy? Well, hard cheese."). So far, "hard cheese" hasn't percolated into American usage, although it is common in Australia and probably in Canada as well. "Hard cheese" dates back to at least 1876; a variant, "hard cheddar," is more recent and first appeared in print around 1931.

Unfortunately, the mere fact that millions of people around the globe use "hard cheese" doesn't mean that anyone knows with any certainty where it came from. One theory mentioned by the great slang etymologist Eric Partridge is that gourmets generally prefer the soft, perishable cheeses. A waiter announcing, "Sorry, only hard cheese available today" would thus be saying, in essence, "tough luck."

But Paul Beale, who edited and updated Partridge's "Dictionary of Catch Phrases" in the 1980s, suggests that the "cheese" in question may not be edible cheese at all. "Cheese" (from the Persian "chiz" meaning "thing") was slang in 19th century Britain for "the proper thing" or "the tops," a usage still heard in the phrase "the big cheese." So "hard cheese" would mean "Lousy break. It could have been good but it wasn't. Tough luck."


Does anyone here have a better answer, or do you agree with the "chiz" theory?

Wordmatic
 
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As a native Persian speaker I must say that "chiz" seems far fetched to me. Normally we Persians are only too willing to claim credit for anything and everything but in this case I think we must go to the other royal entity, the Royal Navy. Cheese was the sailors' ration on Banyan days (one day a week)in the days of sail and it is easy to imagine how hard the cheese became. I think "Hard Cheese" like so many English expressions has it's origins in the briny.
 
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Not completely convinced about the nautical connection (I'm always suspicious of nautical etymologies) but I agree that the reference seems most likely to be to cheese that has gone stale and formed a hard and mouldy crust making that part inedible.
 
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I agree with vazheh in that I prefer the theory that the phrase originated in the days of sail, when a portion of hard cheese (and a weevily biscuit) was all a sailor had as a ration. I can't believe he looked forward to it very much!


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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However, cheese meaning "anything good, first-rate in quality, genuine, pleasant, or advantageous" and "self-important person" as in "the big cheese" probably is from Urdu or Persian چيز cīz "thing".
 
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Having to eat petrified old cheese and a weevly biscuit would, indeed, be "hard cheese." I like the sea slat on this too. Thanks.

Wordmatic
 
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"Cheesed off" = angry
"Cheese it!" = run, or quit whatever you are doing.
And Dennis Eckersley (frmer Red Sox pitcher, now commentator) says "cheese" is a fast ball.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
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quote:
Originally posted by wordmatic:
Having to eat petrified old cheese and a weevly biscuit would, indeed, be "hard cheese." I like the sea slat on this too. Thanks.

Wordmatic


History records that reports of soft cheese (i.e. cheese you could cut with a very sharp knife) available in the infant U.S. Navy persuaded many sailors of the Royal Navy to "jump ship" and that led to the Royal Navy's policy of boarding U.S. ships to look for deserters. That deliberate insult led to a great deal of bad blood and was a Casus Belli for the 1812 war.
 
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Which "historical records" record British sailors joining the US Navy for hard cheese? The British didn't impress sailors from US Navy ships, but from those of the merchant marine vessels. No British man-of-war would tangle with another armed vessel representing a country with which it was not at war, unless it was deliberately trying to start one.

England was at war with France and had expanded its fleet beyond capacity to operate with volunteers. Since they didn't recognize the ability of the US to naturalize sailors born in Britain, the Royal Navy stopped neutral US ships illegally and demanded everyone prove they were American. If you couldn't, then you were impressed into the Royal Navy.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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Very interesting discussion. Not only had I not heard of the "hard cheese" reference before (they are correct; it hasn't come to America yet), but also I didn't know where "big cheese" originated.

WM, glad to see you back! We have missed you.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Proofreader:
Which "historical records" record British sailors joining the US Navy for hard cheese? The British didn't impress sailors from US Navy ships, but from those of the merchant marine vessels. No British man-of-war would tangle with another armed vessel representing a country with which it was not at war, unless it was deliberately trying to start one.

England was at war with France and had expanded its fleet beyond capacity to operate with volunteers. Since they didn't recognize the ability of the US to naturalize sailors born in Britain, the Royal Navy stopped neutral US ships illegally and demanded everyone prove they were American. If you couldn't, then you were impressed into the Royal Navy.


Soft and hard cheese were figures of speech in my note and not to be taken literally. I was referring to the humane way sailors were treated in the American navy and merchant ships as opposed to the Royal Navy.
 
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quote:
I was referring to the humane way sailors were treated in the American navy and merchant ships as opposed to the Royal Navy.

Guess I'm too literally-inclined Eek


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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