Word of the Day: the whole enchilada

Today’s word is actually a phrase. More precisely, it’s an idiom. Its meaning is basically the same as the phrases: “the whole ball of wax” and “the whole nine yards,” (among others) meaning “all of it” or “everything we’ve got.”

Finding the origins of idiomatic phrases is not always as straight-forward as one might think.  Like the phrase, “the whole ball of wax,” the origin of “the whole enchilada” is a bit of a mystery. The former phrase is so old that the original meaning has been lost over time, although there are a lot of guesses. Some think it originated with workers at Madame Tassauds, but this is not the case. It’s much older than that.

According to this website, “the whole enchilada” dates back to the 1960s, although the site doesn’t provide any references as to who originally coined it. A similar phrase, “the big enchilada” was forever immortalized when it was mentioned by John Ehrlichman on one of the infamous Watergate Tapes. He was referring to Attorney General John N. Mitchell. In this instance, “the big enchilada” means the same thing as the “the big cheese.”

PRESIDENT: Mitchell, you see, is never, never going to go in and admit perjury. I mean you can uh, talk about immunity and all the rest, but he’s never going to do that.
HALDEMAN: They won’t give him immunity anyway, I wouldn’t think, unless they figure they could get you. He is as high up as they’ve been.
EHRLICHMAN: He’s the big Enchilada

Several minutes of Googling around didn’t reveal any satisfactory explanation for the origin of “the whole enchilada.” Perhaps if I had more time I could dig a little deeper, but for now I’ll leave you with a picture of a tantalizingly delicious-looking “enchilada.”


Yep, that’s an enchilada. Yesterday, Tobbe and I stopped to grab a bite to eat at a gatukök (Swedish kebab shop and pizzeria) which featured some Mexican dishes in addition to the usual gatukök fare. I ordered the chicken enchilada and that’s what I got. Tobbe ordered a kebab plate and this is what he got:


That’s a proper kebab plate: a pile of french fries and shaved meat drenched in creamy sauce.

The “enchilada” I got didn’t look like any enchilada I’d ever eaten before, which is why I had to take a picture of it to show the folks back home. But it was actually really good. The sort of bread bowl it came in was crispy and delicious, but I wasn’t able to eat the whole enchilada.

Until next time.