Green’s Dictionary of Slang

cheek n.2

[the movement of the cheeks when speaking]

1. verbal insolence.

[US]News (London) 15 Nov. 383: The first defendant [...] nudged his fellow-sufferer, urged him to give plenty of ‘cheek,’ and to speak out like a man.
[UK]Marryat Poor Jack 158: The man, who was a sulky, saucy sort of chap, and no seaman, I’ve a notion, gives cheek.
[Aus][A. Harris] (con. 1820s) Settlers & Convicts 249: She had been giving her mistress what they here technically term ‘cheek,’ and was sentenced so some months’ confinement.
[UK]J. Mitchell Jail Journal July 20 n.p.: I once asked... what fault a man had committed who was flogged... ‘For giving cheek, sir’ [M.] [F&H].
[UK]Lloyd’s Wkly Newspaper 16 June 1/1: In the flash phraseology of the day, [a fellow] is said to have plenty of ‘cheek’.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
Eve. Teleg. (Philadelphia, PA) 13 Nov. 4/2: ‘Cheek’ is a talent [...] Confience is most usually put under the head of ‘cheek’ [...] ‘Cheek’ never made Astor, Peabody or Girard the men they were.
[US]G.P. Burnham Memoirs of the US Secret Service 334: ‘Easy Roberts,’ with his sanctimonious ‘cheek,’ and whining show of piety.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 16 Oct. 9/4: That valuable article known to us low-bred colonials as ‘cheek’.
[UK]W. Hooe Sharping London 34: Cheek, sauce or impudence.
[US]Dodge City Times (KS) 20 Oct. 1/4: No my son, cheek is not better than wisdom [...] Cheek never deceives the world.
[UK]Bird o’ Freedom 22 Jan. 1: ‘Like their cheek,’ sniffed Mrs. Jerker, who prides herself on her chaste English.
[UK]Marvel 8 May 4: Don’t give me any of your cheek, or I’ll thrash you with my leather belt!
[UK]D. Mackail Young Livingstones 89: ‘Absolute cheek,’ said the young Mr. Livingstone.
[UK]R. Westerby Wide Boys Never Work (1938) 22: Cheek! She felt her face glowing red.
[UK]‘Frank Richards’ Billy Bunter at Butlins 54: I said I don’t want any cheek!
[Aus] in K. Gilbert Living Black 288: You know, in a way my husband is boss. I give him cheek, I know when to shut up or I get slapped down.
[UK]J. Cameron Vinnie Got Blown Away 42: Mum whacked me for cheek.

2. audacity, impudence; esp. in phr. have the cheek (to), to dare, to have the nerve (to do something).

[UK]Trollope Three Clerks (1869) 519: Undy Scott [...] possessed an enormous quantity of that which schoolboys in these days call ‘cheek’.
[Aus]letter in Sydney Morn. Herald 7 Aug. 2/4: Cheek [...] is a rare union of fun, impudence, readiness, perseverance, and intelligence, endowing its possessor with the power of walking quietly over social obstacles.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 115/1: You’ve got a great sight of ‘cheek’ about you, anyway.
[US] in ‘Mark Twain’ Life on the Mississippi (1914) 459: [as spelt] ‘i hadn’t got cheak enough to stand that sort of talk, so i left her in a hurry.’.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 5 Nov. 18/2: Parkes travels on his hair. High-church parson’s don’t. They travel on their expansive cheek.
[US]Ade Artie (1963) 81: Just to show the cheek of that boy, the fellow that he had come over and introduce him I never saw before in all my life.
[UK]Boy’s Own Paper 15 Dec. 164: Well, you chaps have got cheek! Fancy coolly staying upstairs smoking, instead of coming into prep!
[UK]Magnet 27 Aug. 2: We’ve decided to give you a jolly good bumping for your fearful cheek.
[Ire]S. O’Casey Juno and the Paycock Act III: Well, I like your damn cheek!
[UK]E. Garnett Family from One End Street 132: What a cheek – walking in like that!
[Aus]L. Glassop We Were the Rats 32: What a cheek I had!
[UK]A. Sillitoe Sat. Night and Sun. Morning 128: I wouldn’t have the cheek to keep on staring.
[UK]E. Bond Saved Scene v: Yer bloody lunatic! Bleedin’ cheek!
[UK]A. Payne ‘The Dessert Song’ Minder [TV script] 29: Scruffy! Bleeding cheek ...
[UK]Beano 20 Nov. 13: What a cheek!
[UK]R. Dahl Rhyme Stew (1990) 74: The djinn was stunned. He could not speak. / At last he said, ‘You’ve got some cheek!’.
[UK]Observer Mag. 12 Sept. 28: You’ve got a bloody cheek coming here.
[UK]K. Waterhouse Soho 82: I know this is a bit of a cheek, but I don’t suppose you could lend me a tenner.

3. an audacious, forward person.

[UK]C. Mackenzie Sinister Street I 169: He flung his arms round Dora [...] and in his confusion kissed very roughly the tilted tip of her nose. ‘Oh, you cheek!’ she gasped.

In derivatives

cheekiness (n.)

audacity, effrontery, impudence.

[Ire]Cork Examiner 17 Sept. 4/6: They were beat... by their slow, loggy stroke, and by their cheekiness .
[UK]Trollope Three Clerks (1869) 520: He lived but on the cheekiness of his gait and habits.
[UK]Western Times 30 Aug. 4/1: The Emperor of Ethiopia [...] has made a marriage offer to the Queen of England. Confound the Abyssinian impudence [...] We feel loyally frantic at his black cheekiness.
[UK]Dundee Courier 2 July 3/6: They held a little confab [...] in instances of cheekiness or effrontery displayed by customers.
[UK]Fife Herald 25 May 4/6: The ‘cheekiness’ of the senior Member for Dundee is now well established.
[UK]Morpeth Herald 21 Nov. 6/2: The little thief was restored to his usual state of jaunty cheekiness.
[UK]Lincs. Echo 27 May 4/2: London’s sparrows [...] on the wiring of the vulture’s cage at the Zoo exhibited a cockney cheekiness which nearly landed them in danger.
cheekish (adj.)


[US]Dickens letter 7 June in Sel. Letters (2012) 120: Yor’ne too cheekish by half Governor. [...] You’d better take it out of yourself by a month and labour, on the Mill.
[UK]Western Times 4 June 11/1: The names of a dozen persons who were, in common parlance, ‘cheekish’ to the hon. magistrate, were noted.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 248/2: Another woman [...] whose husband had got a month for ‘griddling in the main drag’ (singing in the high street), and being ‘cheekish’ (saucy) to the beadle.

In phrases

to one’s own cheek [metonymic use of SE cheek, the side of the face]

to oneself, for one’s own private use.

[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 24: When any one becomes a greedy guts and sups up all, he ‘takes it all to his own cheek.’.
[Ire]C.J. Lever Charles O’Malley 561: Though he consumed something like a prize ox to his own cheek, he at length had to call for cheese.
[UK]Punch XXVIII 10: [...] I had a boiled salt round of beef On Monday all to my own cheek.
[UK]T. Hughes Tom Brown at Oxford (1880) 57: You ate four chops and a whole chicken [...] at dinner, to your own cheek.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 23 Aug. 31/2: When we were on a march with ‘light saddles’ [...] one Regular officer had a Cape cart carrying about a dozen cases of whisky ‘to his own cheek.’.
[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 203/1: cheek. A share [...] Esp. in ‘where’s my cheek?’ and the set phrase to one’s own cheek, all to oneself; from ca. 1820.