My references for this are somewhat sketchy. My dad was a navy guy and I often heard him using the word 'chief' as a reference to a chief petty officer. That is referenced on Wiktionary as: Chief - (US) The familiar form of address for any US Army warrant officer or US Navy and Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer. Also, a section leader in the US Army, and a familiar term for Chief Master Sergeant, the highest enlisted rank in the US Air Force.
My suspicion is that most of the references online to the meaning of this phrase are slightly off-base. Its the reason I was online looking this phrase up in the first place. The explanation of how I believe this phrase initiated is contained in PROPERLY writing the phrase. I've seen it written "chief cook and bottle washer", a variation written "chief cooks and bottle washers", and even "head cook and bottle washer". The fault lies in the fact that the term 'chief cook' is not established. The phrase should properly be written, "chief, cook, and bottle washer", with the meaning: "I do everything around here! I'm the chief, I'm the cook, and I'm the bottle washer". By squeezing 'chief' and 'cook' together, it loses some of its impact by losing some of its span. By delineating the three positions it wraps up every echelon within a given organization from the head down to the lowliest peon.
- Do you have any evidence for this at all? I can see the phrase hyphenated in older texts, e.g. "he's the chief-cook and first-chop bottle-washer of your pale brothers", and "chief cook" is a well known role . The existence of the "head cook" form also goes against your suggestion. Equinox ◑ 01:37, 18 December 2011 (UTC)