Lisa's week

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Lisa's week: Grinning like a Cheshire cat

Idiom of the week

Another reminder today of how interesting British idioms are, made me think that it would be a good subject again for this week’s ponderings.

Grinning like a Cheshire cat

Example in use: I came into the room to find Peter grinning like a Cheshire cat. When I asked him why he was so happy, he told me that he’d beaten Thomas to the promotion they’d both been working for. That grin stayed on his face the whole evening! Poor Thomas is going to be really upset when he finds out tomorrow.

Meaning: someone who is smiling broadly for a long time, sometimes in a very self-satisfied way

Possible German equivalent: wie ein Hongikuchenpferd grinsen

Possible origin: This expression was made famous and popular by the author Lewis Caroll with his children’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice meets the Duchess’s cat that cannot stop grinning, which she finds rather strange. It is even stranger when the cat gradually disappears in front of her eyes with just its grin vanishing last of all. The original illustrations in the book show this large smiling cat in great detail and Alice comes across it several times with it appearing and disappearing alarmingly. At one point, Alice exclaims that she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat.

However, the phrase itself predates this literary appearance by as much as 75 years according to different information I found online and seems to have originated in the 1700s.

Three theories for the origin of the expression are:

  1. Some painted inn and pub signs in Cheshire, which is a county in the north of England, showed the crest of an influential family and included a lion. However, they were badly painted and looked more like grinning cats.
  2. Cheshire is known for its dairy farms, which would have made cats happy with the abundance of milk and cream products.
  3. Cheshire is well known for its cheese – which incidentally, I’ve never managed to track down here in Germany! – and there is some evidence to suggest that it might have been formed into the shape of a cat, which looked like it had a broad smile on its face. The cheese would be cut starting from the tail end and the smile would be the last part left to cut and eat.

I have to say that I’m not terribly convinced by any of these theories but regardless of the true origin, Alice’s cat friend is definitely the most famous grinning feline of them all! What’s making you grin today?

Cheshire / ˈtʃeʃ.ər

What is Lisa's week?

"We’ve (hopefully) been entertaining you so far with the meaning and background of a weekly English idiom and now we’ve decided to expand that a little to give me the chance to share some details that come my way in my daily life as a Business English teacher. I hope to find weekly tidbits of information and experience to tell you about such as British traditions that I (or we) celebrate, or typical mistakes made when speaking English, or even some of the funny things I come across in my daily life. We hope that you’ll enjoy the insight into the life of a Brit in Germany!"


Episode 1: The Queen's 90th birthday

Episode 2: What did you do last Sunday?

Episode 3: What's the best way to answer?

Episode 4: The sound of London

Episode 5: Not just a last resort

Episode 6: Quick tip of the week: advice vs. advise

Episode 7: Title talk

Episode 8: The Union Jack

Episode 9: Why Thursday?

Episode 10: Quick tip of the week - Are you watching or just looking?

Episode 11: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Episode 12: Don't forget to take you handy to the public viewing!

Episode 13: Up in the Highlands

Episode 14: Quick tip of the week - "Popular" false friends

Episode 15: Pie in the sky 

Episode 16: Through the tunnel

Episode 17: Keep left!

Episode 18: Quick tip of the week - Rise vs. raise vs. arise

Episode 19: How do you say that?

Episode 20: Back to School!

Episode 21: Sweet cravings

Episode 22: Can you change a fiver?

Episode 23: Grabbing some "me time"

Episode 24: Typical Mistakes (part 1)

Episode 25: Fancy a cuppa?

Episode 26: Quip tip of the week - Fell vs. fall etc.

Episode 27: Things that go bump in the night!

Episode 28: Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpower, treason and plot

Episode 29: What's that badge you're wearing?

Episode 30: Bless you!

Episode 31: What are you thankful for?

Episode 32: Where's the larget Christmas Market outside Germany or Austria?

Episode 33: What's behind the door?

Episode 34: The joy of a Christmas cracker!

Episode 35: Does it all fit on the table?

Episode 36: Seeing in the New Year

Episode 37: How are your resolutions going?

Episode 38: Quick tip of the week - "Popular" false friends - part 2

Episode 39: What will the Year of the Rooster mean for you?

Episode 40: Sweet Valentine

Episode 41: A Reminder

Episode 42: I'll have mine with sugar and lemon juice, please!

Episode 43: The joy of golden daffodils

Episode 44: To correct or not to correct, that is the question

Episode 45: The whole world's going green!

Episode 46: Idiom of the week - Raining cats and dogs

Episode 47: The joke's on you!

Episode 48: Left over from the Middle Ages!

Episode 49: More calendar food-based ponderings

Episode 50: We use German words too

Episode 51: Celebrating St George

Episode 52: The perfect start to the day

Episode 53: The tiny apostrophe is actually something big (part 1)

Episode 54: The tiny apostrophe is actually something big (part 2)

Episode 55: The tiny apostrophe is actually something big (part 3)

Episode 56: Holiday season is coming!

Episode 57; ‘Tis the season (of Bank Holidays) – part 1

Episode 58; ‘Tis the season (of Bank Holidays) – part 2

Episode 59: Summer Solstice

Episode 60: Harry Potter turns 20

Episode 61: Quick Tip of the Week - live, life, live

Episode 62: Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

Episode 63:  I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

Episode 64: Stick a stamp on it!

Episode 65: Idiom of the week - Water under the bridge

Episode 66: I say QWERTY, you say QWERTZ

Episode 67: Doing your homework and making mistakes! (Part 1)

Episode 68: Doing your homework and making mistakes! (Part 2)

Episode 69: Joking around in Scotland

Episode 70: The first day of school

Episode 71: Let's go down to the Wiesn!

Episode 72: Celebrating language

Episode 73: It's a Harry thing!

Episode 74: My favourite time of the year

Episode 75: TED-Ideas Worth Spreading