chalk and cheese

Discuss word origins and meanings.
Post Reply

chalk and cheese

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sat Jun 22, 2013 11:37 pm

<2012 “Two different sorts of men: those who are never going to settle down to anything, and those who want a career. Chalk and cheese if you ask me.”—Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith, page 120>
CHALK AND CHEESE (often in AS DIFFERENT AS CHALK AND CHEESE and LIKE CHALK AND CHEESE (chiefly British and Australian): 1)Two things that are totally different in character, although superficially similar. 2) Two things that are totally unalike. 3) The worthless versus the valuable . [[Couldn’t find an example for this 3rd definition although it was the only definition provided by Facts on File]] <I don't have anything in common with my brother. We're like chalk and cheese.>

Etymology: The first appearance in print (see 1393 quotes below) of what later became the comparison of chalk and cheese, suggests that some wily shopkeeper was trying to trick his customers by substituting one for the other (some cheeses have a white coating of mold) or more likely adulterating one with the other. This expression of disparity has survived until the present day perhaps as a result of its humorous juxtaposition and snappy alliteration

(Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, Allen’s English Phrases, Cambridge Dictionary of Idioms, World Wide Words, and Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés)

The following quotes are from the above word and phrase dictionaries and archived sources:
<1393 “And thus ful ofte chalk for cheese he changeth with ful littel cost.”—Confessio Amantis by John Gower>

<1393 “Lo! How they feignen chalk for cheese.”—Confessio Amantis by John Gower in John Heywood’s Proverbs, Epigrams, and Miscellanies edited by John S. Farmer (1906)>

<1548 “Though I have no learning, yet I know cheese from chalke,”—Jon Bon and Mast Person, author anonymous>

<1838 “. . . it is as much unlike the old corps as chalk is cheese. When the Company was first established affairs were in a very different condition than they are now.”—The Age (London), 29 July, page 6>

<1912 “. . . Mr. Walker has been running back and forth between the Progressives and the reactionaries, trying to match chalk and cheese, . . .”—Boston Evening Transcript (Massachusetts), page 2>

<1970 “The eastern and western halves of New Guinea have about as much in common as chalk and cheese. One is a chronically underdeveloped province of Indonesia, the other is an Australian trust territory rapidly approaching independence.”— Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), 3 March, page 2>

<1985 “Stephen Barry, who served as Prince Charles’ valet for 12 years, said . . . that the two were ‘as different as chalk and cheese’ and stayed married primarily because of the children.”—Lakeland Ledger (Florida), 3 May>

<1998 “Yes, I know that our lives are worlds apart. To start with, our accents are like chalk and cheese. I am well-spoken and Craig has a gruff London accent. Also our interests are totally different. . . .”—The People (London, England), 17 May>

<2006 “Funds that focus on bricks and mortar and those that focus on shares in property companies are as different as chalk and cheese . . .”—Daily Mail (London), 9 July>

<2013 “When I look back at what we were like when we entered the competition and what we were when we finished, it's like chalk and cheese, . . .”—The Irish Times (Dublin), 29 April>

Ken G – June 22, 2013

Re: chalk and cheese

Post by tony h » Sun Jun 23, 2013 6:06 pm

This is one of those phrases that survives the test of time.

But it always make me wonder about the type of cheese. I presume not Stilton or Caboc. Maybe Chedder. Most likely Lancashire or Wensleydale. After all the likeness of type of local cheese to chalk would give rise to a probability of the likely geographic origin.
Signature: tony

I'm puzzled therefore I think.

Post Reply