The word big appears in many idioms. Here are a few.
Back in the 1600s, Louis XIII went bald. Bummer for him, as folks of the time believed a hirsute man was a powerful man. His answer to his problem was to wear a wig. Soon, wigs became tres cool in court. They grew and grew in importance & sheer mass. In time, the most glorious wigs required internal scaffolding (I don’t make these things up). Of course, only the wealthiest & most powerful could afford the most absurdly tall wigs. By the time the 1700s came along, the high & mighty became known as big wigs or bigwigs.
The big cheese didn’t get big until it crossed the pond in 1910. Previous to that (in merry old England), the word cheese was used to mean the best or first rate, (though in recent times cheese & cheesy have come to mean the opposite) But the idiom meant first rate when it arrived in the USA. By the 1920s, the big cheese shifted to mean the boss or the important person.
On a related note, a person who thinks highly of him/herself is said to have a big head. This idiom meaning conceited appeared in 1850.
The idiom big band came about in 1926 and doesn’t refer to the size of the band as much as the sort of music the band in question plays. Typically, a big band consists of one to two dozen instrumentalists (& sometimes a vocalist or two) playing swing music of the 1930s and 1940s.
Since the 1800s, important issues have been big deals & it's been possible to feel like a big fish in a small pond. People who talk a lot have been big mouths since 1889, and big business is a term we’ve been using since 1905. Since 1909 we’ve called New York the Big Apple, though it took until 1970 for New Orleans to become the Big Easy. People have been able to mess up big time or make the big time since 1910, a prison or jail has been the big house since 1915, & we’ve had big shots since 1929. The idiom Big Brother was born in 1949, big bang came about in 1950, & big ticket showed up in 1956.
It’s a big world out there, folks! Here’s hoping you’ve got something to say about all this bigness. If so, please do so in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: phrase finder, etymonline.com, the OED, & wordnik.com.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
To receive weekly reminders of new Wordmonger posts, click on "Contact" & send me your email address.