John Ehrlichman popularized “the big enchilada” when Watergate tapes were released from 1973. Ehrlichman’s conversation with President Richard Nixon had meant that U.S. Attorney General John N. Mitchell was “the big deal.”
The term “the full enchilada” dates back to the 1950s, and “the whole enchilada” is from 1951. Like “the whole nine yards,” the terms mean that everything is in there.
Why “enchilada”? Is there something big and important wrapped in there?
History and Politics Out Loud
Title: President Richard M. Nixon Watergate tapes; public relations aspects of Watergate; Mitchell’s role in the break-in; White House staff
Speaker: Richard M. Nixon
Audio/Video Available: Listen
Transcript/Log: TRANSCRIPT OF A RECORDING OF A MEETING
AMONG THE PRESIDENT, H.R. HALDEMAN,
JOHN EHRLICHMAN, AND RONALD ZIEGLER
ON MARCH 27, 1973 FROM 11:10 A.M. TO
MARCH 27, 1973 FROM 11:10 A.M. TO 1:30 P M. 46
EHRLICHMAN: And that’s a terrible thing. I, uh, I think if he were faced with that reality, uh, he would, uh—
PRESIDENT: Well, what is Mitchell’s option though? You mean to say, uh let’s, let’s see what he could do. Does Mitchell come in and say, “My fault…My memory was faulty. I lied?” No. He can’t say that.
EHRLICHMAN: He says, uh, uh—
PRESIDENT: _That I may have given a—without intending to, I may have given, been responsible for this, and I, I regret it very much, but I did not intend that, I did not realize what they were up to. They, they were talking, we were talking about apples and oranges._ That’s what I think he would say. Don’t you agree?
HALDEMAN: I think. -
HALDEMAN: He authorized apples and they bought oranges. Yeah
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.
HALDEMAN: And he’s the one the magazines zeroed in on this weekend.
John Daniel Ehrlichman (March 20, 1925 – February 14, 1999) was counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs under President Richard Nixon and a key figure in events leading to the Watergate first break-in and in the ensuing Watergate scandal.
22 October 1951, San Francisco (CA) Examiner, “Earl Wilson” (syndicated entertainment columnist), pg. 22, col. 3
Who started the expression, “the whole enchilada?” It’s around now.
15 March 1955, Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) Herald, “Behind the Scenes in Hollywood” by Harrison Carroll, pg. 2, col. 1:
“I’ll just wear an eye veil,” she (Actress Betty Hutton—ed.) says, “not the full enchilada.”
9 March 1959, Time, pg. 32, col. 2:
The Full Enchilada
Though his country is the smallest in the Western Hemisphere, El Salvador’s President, Lieutenant Colonel Jose Maria Lemus, 47, will get what Latin American diplomats call the “full enchilada” when he arrives in Washington next week on a twelve-day state visit to the U. S. Ingredients: an airport greeting from President Dwight Eisenhower, quarters at Blair House, a White House dinner party, an address to a joint session of Congress, a white tie dinner at Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria, and a Broadway ticker-tape parade, a visit to Monticello and to the New Salem, Ill. log cabin village where Lincoln lived as a young man.
6 March 1960, Los Angeles Times, “Potpourri From Public Pen” by Joan WInchell, pg. D8:
(Indeed it is, complete with swimming, hiking, tennis—the whole enchilada.)
26 December 1960, Pasadena (CA) Independent, pg. 15:
Ann Doran of the National Velvet series did it easy-the-hard-way: bought 100 pounds of candy wholesale and hand-wrapped the whole enchilada in one-pound lots as Christmas gifts.
26 September 1965, Long Beach (CA) Independent Press-Telegram, pg. W2, col. 2:
They gave the honorees a complete barbecue outfit—the whole enchilada, including shish kabob set, rotiserrie, wide table and even a plaid cover for the big barbecue rig.
27 February 1969, Washington Post, pg. C2:
“I think we (the Red Sox) have the best team in baseball,” Harrelson continued, “and we’re going for the whole enchilada—the pennant and the World Series.”