If you’ve heard the phrase “cheese it!” exclaimed, you may have been confused.
The meaning of the phrase “cheese it,” when said to someone else, is usually “stop what you’re doing and run!”
This slang has been used in several films about older centuries, and has a fascinating history, which we will explore in this article!
The History of “Cheese It”
The phrase “cheese it” can sound confusing, or like a poor exclamation of the Biblical figure, “Jesus’” name. However, this slang, usually used to tell someone to stop doing something which is wrong or annoying, has its origins back in Great Britain.
Originally spoken by the lower class at the beginning of the nineteenth century, “cheese it” was found in writing in a novel written by O. Henry called “The Voice of the City.” In this novel, a character shouts the phrase as a warning to everyone gathered that a police officer is coming, and they had all better run away.
The next example could be found in another book, this time nonfiction and published around twenty years later by James Hardy Vaux, entitled “A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language of 1812.” The word “flash” referred to men who were generally associated with bad dealings, or criminals.
British people, typically those living a meager lifestyle on or near the streets, used the words
“cheese it” the same way that others might say “knock it off,” or “stow it.” It normally came with the idea of a warning; to stop doing something wrong because you were about to be caught in the act.
The reason “cheese” is in the phrase at all is up for debate. Some scholars believe that “cheese” came from an old proverb, in which the full saying was “after cheese comes nothing,” meaning cheese was the last thing someone got to eat.
Others believe that it is, as aforementioned, simply a mispronunciation of the name “Jesus” as a word of alarm. Either way, the popularity of the phrase continued until it even showed up in the United States.
It was commonly shouted by newsboys who were getting into trouble in 1899, a fact which lasted long enough in the memory of popular culture to make its way into the beloved 1992 musical, “Newsies.”
In conclusion, the phrase “cheese it” had its origins in the slums of Britain, where people could use it to mean “stop what you’re doing and run away,” or as a type of warning. Though the reason behind the phrase’s particular wording isn’t clear, it was popular enough to withstand the test of time and be remembered as common slang for the nineteenth century.