Thursday, October 26, 2006

When and how did the word "cheesy" come to mean something not about cheese?

Who's asking: Tom Ehrenfeld

Ah, cheese. Like Wallace, I love it in all its forms. Edible cheese is something I've only learned to like as an adult; as a child, I wouldn't touch it.

Cultural cheese, though, I've always loved. The Oxford English Dictionary has included the word "cheesy" since its Second Edition, meaning "inferior, second-rate, cheap or nasty;" the metaphor is of something that looks pretty but smells bad. The Third Edition adds our more common usage, of meaning something "hackneyed, unsubtle but neverthless appealing in a sneaky, wish-it-wasn't kind of way, and usually applied to entertainment." The OED credits this meaning to American English, and dates it back to at least the 1950s.

For something to be truly cheesy -- as opposed to campy -- it must be entirely sincere and free from irony. A good example would be the Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden, Utah, which supplements its perfectly respectable fossil exhibits with lurid plastic replicas of dinosaurs that kids can climb on.

I am something of a connoisseur of these cheesy tourist attractions, and would really like to be able to quit working altogether and just spend my time visiting them. If you'd like to subsidize me in this effort, please get in touch.

Since I didn't list the Five Random Songs yesterday, here's this morning's edition:

"Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy," The Tams. The all-time classic beach music anthem. Suddenly, it's not late fall in Maine; it's early summer in Virginia Beach.

"From Me to You," The Beatles. I just watched A Hard Day's Night again, after getting it from Netflix. What a joyful movie, and this song has that same kind of joyful optimism.

"Rhythm of the Blues," Mary Chapin Carpenter. I wish Mary Chapin Carpenter was my sister, or maybe just a really good friend. We could hang out. She could give me advice.

"Knock on Wood," Eddie Floyd. The original version of a song that's been covered too many times.

"This Room," The Notwist. The first time I heard this song -- German electronica about doomed love -- it stopped me cold. It still gives me chills.


Running from my House said...

I have a question!

What do you think about NANWRIMO and will you be particpating?

AnswerGirl said...

Good question... I think I'll answer this tomorrow!

Paul Tomme said...

I always assumed that "cheesy" was a polite substitute for sleazy.

I discovered recently that my last name is derived from a type of low fat cheese produced in the Savoie region of France. Oh well, at least it's low fat.

Anonymous said...


to be fair not all the dinos in that ogden outdoor display are cheesy, just the older ones...the newer ones are both scientifically accurate, as far as I can see, and aesthetically pleasing. And as you indicate the museum looks like a blast. I'm already planning the next family vacation around it...

scott p.