Cheeky is a British English slang or colloquial word, which generally needs to be explained to English language learners in the United Kingdom. It may also be unfamiliar to people from other English speaking countries, such as the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand or Australia.
The meaning of cheeky?
The word has been in use in the English language since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines cheeky as “rude in an amusing or annoying way.” Whether this cheekiness is amusing or annoying tends to depend on the perception of the people involved in the situation. Some people may regard cheekiness more negatively than others. Young school children who are impertinent to, or presumptuous about, their teacher during lessons are often described as being cheeky or as having cheeked the teacher. If this behaviour is very irritating, or continues over a long period of time, then the offender may sometimes be disciplined for their lack of respect.
There are degrees of cheekiness. If a person is extremely rude to the point where it is no longer amusing, but is exceptionally contemptuous and disrespectful towards people in authority, then this is usually described as being insolent. In the past, older schoolchildren and youths would have often been given the cane at school or a ‘clip around the ear’ (flicked on the ear)by a policeman as a punishment for insolence. Nether of these punishments are administered in the present day. Although mostly used on more formal occasions, the word insolent is generally used as a synonym of cheeky.
As is the case with many words in the English language, the meaning of cheeky can depend on the context. It can also be used as a more affectionate term of endearment. This is especially the case when referring to a baby or toddler. Members of the family often say “he is such a cheeky monkey” or “she has a very cheeky face”. The relatives are actually proud of the child and think that he or she is cute or sweet. Therefore, the word is not generally meant in a negative way in this context.