Grin Like a Cheshire Cat

The Chesire Cat is most associated with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol. In the story, the Chesire cat had a broad grin planted on its face and would slowly disappear, starting with its tail and ending with its grin, which would remain a few moments after the rest of it had gone. Although Carrol certainly popularized the notion of the Chesire cat, like most of his characters, he was borrowing from an already existing idea.

Meaning of Idiom ‘Grin Like a Chesire Cat’

To grin like a Cheshire cat is to have a big smile on your face and to be very happy with yourself or something you know or have found out.

Usage Notes

This phrase usually has the connotation of being happy about something when nobody but you understands what you’re happy about. As well, it usually alludes to being not just happy, but foolishly happy and not being able to control your expressions of happiness. It’s usually used in a continuous sense.

It’s possible to say someone grinned like a Cheshire cat but we usually say something like “he was grinning like a Cheshire cat.”

Examples Of Use

“What’s going on with Clark? He’s been walking around grinning like a Chesire cat all day.”

“Everybody on the team was grinning like a Chesire cat.”

“We weren’t sure who pulled the prank on Josh until we noticed Grayson sitting there grinning like a Chesire cat.”

“Are you just going to sit there grinning like a Chesire cat or are you going to help me put together this stupid bookshelf?”

Origin

The actual origin of the Chesire cat is difficult to be certain of, but there are several fanciful stories. I can’t recount them all here but two of the most popular involve the county of Chesire in England, a place of many dairy farms, and a lot of cheesemaking. According to folks in Chesire, the cats there grin because there is so much milk and cream available. Another legend is that cheese was made there which bore a stamp that looked like a grinning cat. It has even been claimed that the cheese was actually made in the shape of a cat that appeared to be grinning and that this cheese was usually cut from the tail first so that the grin was the last to go.

There is also another story about a Chesire forest ranger named Caterling who would frighten poachers away with his savage grin.  1Ammer, Christine. The Dictionary of Cliches: a Word Lover’s Guide to 4,000 Overused Phrases and Almost-Pleasing Platitudes. Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.

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