The Netherlands are known, among other things, for their flatness. In the immortal words of Hendrik Marsman:
Denkend aan Holland|
zie ik breede rivieren
traag door oneindig
laagland gaan …
Thinking of Holland|
I see wide rivers passing
heavy through unending
lowland plains …
(Herinnering aan Holland
As Marsman also points out, wherever you go you hear the "voice of the water." So all of that flat land has a tendency to be green.
Cows like grass.
Ever since the middle ages, the Netherlands has been an exporter of cheese. This fact was no secret to its neighbours. And so it came to pass that when searching for an insulting name for evil rich protestant Dutch people, the virtuous Catholic Flemish to their south came up with 'kaaskop', meaning 'cheesehead.' Some say this was a response to the Dutch calling them 'fish-heads,' in reference to their Papist habit of eating fish on Fridays.
A polder is an area of land that has been reclaimed from the sea. Polders tend to be flat. Since water tends to drain downwards, they also tend to be wet. This is why there are a lot of windmills in the Netherlands: the water has to be pumped out of the polder so that it will remain a polder and not become a lake, and wind power was traditionally used for this.
A large amount of the Netherlands consists of polders. (The wind blows with little hindrance across the flatter regions of the Earth.)
Although the Netherlands are known in general for their proficiency and zeal in the manufacture and purveying of cheese, some parts of the country produce more cheese than others, for historical, geological and agricultural reasons.
The town of Alkmaar is located in the province of North Holland. The town is set on a rise, fully two metres above the surrounding polders, which are among the oldest in the country. The flat well-watered land is ideal for dairy farming. The cheese market was historically one of the most important in the country, and is one of four that still exists, although these days it is essentially a show for tourists.
Thus, when people from other parts of the Netherlands felt the need to refer in disparaging terms to the worthy (and unworthy) citizens of Alkmaar, they did not need to exercise a huge amount of imagination to come up with 'kaaskop,' meaning 'cheesehead.'
Different cheeses are traditionally made in different sizes. A big cheese is a big wheel, not only metaphorically speaking. Many Dutch cheeses, including the export hit Edam, are made in smaller units, around the size of someone's head. The washed curds used to make the cheese are formed into a nearly spherical shape using a special mould made for this purpose.
Given the difficulty of removing a spherical solid from a hollow spherical solid without damage to either if both are confined to a three-dimensional space manifold, two semi-spherical parts are used. One of these pieces, being of a size to make a head-sized cheese, is also of a size to be worn on a head, if there should be reason to desire the provision of hard headware without undue consideration of the dictates of fashion.
Such reason can be found when marching ill-equipped into combat. It is said that cheese moulds were used as improvised helmets when the Dutch took to the streets to protest. It is also said that they were used by Dutch farmers who had been pressed into combat during the Middle Ages. No-one seems to be very sure about where and when this happened. So the story may be apocryphal.
However, assuming that this did at some point happen, what could be more natural than to refer to the cheese-mould-helmeted army by the name of their cranial protection? Such a cheese mould is about head-sized, and is used to make cheese, and so is naturally known as a 'kaaskop,' meaning 'cheesehead.'
What was an insult may come to be worn as a badge of pride. This is what happened to the terms Tory and Whig. I first heard the term 'kaaskop' used by Dutch people to refer to themselves. The equivalent term in German 'Käsekopf' is not felt, at least around Berlin, to be particularly disparaging: although not overly respectful, it is used more affectionately than insultingly.
We may never know what the intention of the Wisconsin settlers was who referred to their Dutch neighbours as 'cheeseheads.' Whatever it was, those neighbours were not moved to change their habits. With the result that Wisconsin became known as a centre of cheese production in the United States, and the term was generalised to cover all of its inhabitants, any of whom thus came to be known as a 'cheesehead,' meaning 'kaaskop.'
Sporting events provide well-loved opportunities to insult people on the basis of their geographical origin. But sports fans are not the kind to take an insult lying down. Certainly not if that would damage their hat. And the first cheese-shaped hats that appeared on the heads of Wisconsinites in the bleachers at baseball games in response to the taunts of the opposing fans were made of cardboard and were therefore not very robust.
Then in 1987 one Ralph Bruno took a piece of foam from a sofa, burned holes in it to make it look like American Swiss cheese, and wore it on his head to a Milwaukee Brewers game. Encouraged by the positive response from those who were not telling him to take it off so they could see the diamond, he started a business, Foamation, Inc., for the industrial production of cheese-themed foam headwear.
Why a particular novelty product is more successful among one group of potential consumers than another is usually not easy to explain. For whatever reason, cheese-shaped hats are now particularly popular among the fans of the American Football team the Green Bay Packers. For this reason they are commonly known as 'cheeseheads,' meaning 'cheeseheads.'
As usual, translations are by me.
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