Friday, 17 April 2009

cheese and quibble

Not cheese the food, but cheese meaning "the right or correct thing" and also "an important or self-important person" as in the big cheese. It's probably from Urdu or Persian چيز cīz "thing", which is from Old Persian ciš-ciy "something", from a reduplicated form like *kʷid-kʷid- from Proto-Indo-European *kʷo-, the stem of relative and interrogative pronouns, and the source of English who, what, why, how, when and which. Hobson-Jobson notes

the expression used to be common among Anglo-Indians, e.g., "My new Arab is the real chīz"; "These cheroots are the real chīz"

*kʷo- became Latin quī "who", the dative plural of which is quibus. The OED says quibus occurred frequently in legal documents and so was associated with unnecessary complexity. It was borrowed into English as quib "An expression or point that serves to delay or obscure an argument; a quibble", and "A jibe, a taunt; a quip". It was later altered to quibble.


Mattitiahu said...

Latin reduplicated form of *kʷid-kʷid- used as an adverbial accusative:

quidquid: To whatever extent, by how much, the further. quidquid progrediebantur, magis magisque, etc. (Livy)

(Source: CT Lewis. Elementary Latin Dictionary)

I'm afraid that I can't think of anything that's a quidquid in modern parlance though.

zmjezhd said...

What a wonderful etymology. I was unaware of cīz; (I really should read Hobson-Jobson someday). It makes the faux French la grande fromage [sic] a doubly tasty phrase.

bulbul said...

Quidquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem. First Latin phrase I learned :)
Afaik, čīz is also used in Persian (or at least the Tehrani dialect) as the equivalent of English "er" or "um". Sounds really good, almost as good as Finnish "tota" or "niinku".

Broccoli said...

How do I mention that you can become "the Big Cheese of Your Own Star Trek Universe" without sounding like a moron?

Site Owner said...

Is this also the root of 'Cheese' in the phrase 'Cheese It' to skeedaddle, vamous, flee. 'Cheese it' would then be 'Right and proper thing, it' or 'Do the right & proper thing' and run!

Simon BJ

goofy said...

Simon: The OED seems to say that the "cheese" of "cheese it" is rhyming slang for "thieves":

slang (orig. Thieves'). To stop, give up, leave off. cheese it! = have done! run away!