Say cheese

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For other uses, see Say Cheese (disambiguation).

"Say cheese" is an instruction used by photographers who want their subject to smile. By saying "cheese", most people form their mouths into what appears to be a smile-like shape.

As this practice became ingrained into modern western culture, it has taken on the simple role of a final warning before a photograph is taken. Often subjects will simply use the phrase "say cheese" as a cue to enter their final pose and to smile, neglecting to actually say "cheese".

Over the years, many other words have been used in place of cheese. For comedic effect, a photographer might say "Say ______" filling the blank with a word relevant to the event or action he is photographing (for example, "Say wipe out" during a seaside photograph). Other times a person will fill the blank with an absurdist or seemingly arbitrary word of their choice.


In the late 19th century, different aesthetic and behavioral norms required keeping the mouth small, which led to photographers using the phrase "say prunes".[1]

In different languages and cultures[edit]

Perhaps because of strong Western influence, especially in the realm of photography, and perhaps because of increased numbers of Western visitors after photographic equipment became widely available, the phrase "Say cheese" has also entered into the Japanese language. However, the word "say" is almost always dropped from the phrase, resulting in the phrase simply being "Cheese." This is usually pronounced in Japanese (and written in katakana) as "chiizu" (チーズ).

Other languages have adopted this method, albeit with different words that sound similar to cheese to get the desired effect of shaping the mouth to form a smile.

  • In Argentina, the word used is borrowed from English: "Whisky"
  • In Bulgaria, "Zele", meaning "Cabbage"
  • In Brazil the phrase is "Olha o passarinho" ("Look at the little bird") or "Digam 'X'" ("Say 'X'") (the name of the letter "X" in Portuguese sounds a lot like the word "cheese").
  • In China, the word used is 茄子 (qie2zi), meaning "eggplant". The pronunciation of this word is notably similar to that of the English word "cheese". In Hong Kong, the phrase is "一,二,三" ("yat yi saam") meaning "1, 2, 3."[2]
  • In Croatia, the word used is "ptičica", meaning "little bird"
  • In Czech Republic, the word used is "sýr", meaning cheese in Czech."
  • In Denmark, "Sig 'appelsin'", meaning "Say 'orange'" is often used.
  • In Finland, "Muikku" is the word often used by photographers to make people smile.
  • In France and other French-speaking countries, the word "ouistiti," meaning marmoset, is often used.
  • In Germany, food-related words like "Spaghetti", "Käsekuchen" (cheesecake), Wurst are used, mainly to make children laugh for the picture.
  • In Hungary, the photographer says Itt repül a kis madár [here flies the little bird], but also the English "cheese" is used mostly by younger people.
  • In India, they say "paneer" (Hindi: पनीर).
  • In Italy, the photographer says "sorridi" which means smile.
  • In Morocco, "Khbiz", which means bread, is often used.
  • In Iran, the word used is سیب (saib), meaning "Apple."
  • In Israel, the phrase used is "תגידו צ'יז" (tagidu tshiz), meaning "say cheese".
  • In Japan, "Sei, No..." meaning "Ready, Set!" is often used. Also チーズ (chīzu), meaning cheese, is used.
  • In Vietnam, they often say "2...3...Cười lên nào!!!". And sometimes "i..i..i...." pronounced like character "E" in English.
  • In Korea, one says "kimchi".[3]
  • In most Latin American countries, the phrase used is "Diga 'whiskey'" ("Say 'whiskey'").
  • In Nigeria many photographers prompt the subjects of their photographs to say "cheese" at the count of three
  • In Russia, they say "сыр", pronounced seer, which means "cheese" in Russian. The pronunciation is extended, to lengthen the time the "smile" is on the face.[citation needed]
  • In Serbia, the word used is "птичица" meaning "Little bird".
  • In Slovakia, the word used is "syr", meaning cheese in Slovak. The pronunciation is extended, to lengthen the time the "smile" is on the face."
  • In Spain, the equivalent form is "di/decid patata"[citation needed] ("say potato"). An alternative command when taking a picture is "mirar al pajarito"[4] ("look at the birdie"), intended to make people look directly at the camera.
  • In Sweden, "Säg 'omelett'", meaning "Say 'omelette'" is often used.
  • In Turkey, "Peynir", which means cheese, is often used.

See also[edit]

  • Cheese, the food to which this phrase refers