The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016
The threads linking food and the heart are irresistible. The matzo ball soup that comforts. The toasted spices that transport you to your mother’s kitchen. The oozing chocolate pudding bent on seduction.
For the RAF pilots who fought in the Second World War, there was an affinity between burnt cheese and boredom.
To get “cheesed off” was to become disgruntled while hanging around the aerodrome, waiting for a mission. Originally, this irritable feeling was described as being “browned off,” the pilots comparing themselves to rusting engines. The expression “cheesed off” can be traced back to the nineteenth century, but quite why it became so popular among airmen remains a mystery. Some say it’s because cheese turns brown under a grill. Others, because cheese on toast was obsessively eaten while waiting, and the men were, quite literally, fed up with it (see: BOREDOM).
Some situations and the emotions they provoke are so unpleasant that a silly nickname is the only hope of relief (see also: UMPTY; COLLYWOBBLES, the). It’s easy to imagine Second World War airmen silenced by stiff upper lips. But the expression “cheesed off” is a gentle correction to this cliché. It lets us catch a glimpse of the wry smiles that lightened the grim wait.
For more emotional soldiers, see: HOMESICKNESS.
See also: BOREDOM.