What is the meaning and the origin of the idiom Grinning Like a Cheshire Cat?
By Mrs. Mireille, Germany - 5th July-2007
First, let's deal with the pronunciation of Cheshire. The ch is like the ch in cheese, cheap and chit. The e is like the e in wet, set and met, while the following sh sounds like the sh in sheep, ship and shape. The final ire is pronounced like the a in China. The stress is on the first syllable. When you say that someone is Grinning like a Cheshire Cat, it means that he/she has a broad smile on his/her face.
Here are a few examples.
• Divya obviously knows something. She has been walking around all morning grinning like a Cheshire cat.
• When Leya walked in grinning like a Cheshire cat, I knew that she had come first in her class.
• The child was unaware of what had happened. He continued to jump around grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Cheshire is the name of a county in England. Before you jump to any conclusions let me assure you that the cats from this county aren't famous for their grins. The place however, was famous for its cheese.
The cheese makers from this place used to draw the figure of a smiling cat on a special type of cheese. People who bought this type of cheese saw the face of a cat with a broad smile.
So the cat in the idiom Grinning like a Cheshire Cat is not a real cat, but the figure that was found on cheese. Although the idiom has been around for several centuries, it was the author of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll who made it famous.
In the novel, Alice runs into a large cat with a big smile. When Alice asks why he is grinning, the Duchess replies, ``It's a Cheshire cat and that's why.'' In the story the cat begins to disappear slowly. It’s the tail that disappears first and the smile fades last.
So at one point all that Alice sees is the face with a big smile. There are several other explanations about the origin of this idiom, but this is the one that is generally agreed upon.