Tongue in Cheek


What does Tongue in Cheek mean?

Tongue in Cheek is an idiom often mistakenly referred to as “Tongue and Cheek”. It is used to refer to a comment that is said in a serious manner, but is actually meant to be sarcastic or ironic.

This expression has been around for quite some time, and is used in all forms of communication, from casual conversations to professional writing.

It’s a clever way to make a point without being too direct, and makes a conversation more interesting. It is often used to express humor, but it is important to be aware of the context of the conversation and the other party’s feelings before using it.



What's the origin of Tongue in Cheek?

“Tongue in Cheek” has its roots in an early gesture of contempt, where a person would thrust their tongue into their cheek, making a grimace.

This expression was even featured in Tobias Smollett‘s 1748 novel, “The Adventures of Roderick Random”, where a character used it to signal their disapproval.

However, it was not until the 19th century that the phrase took the more familiar form of biting one’s tongue, while trying to hold back laughter. This modern interpretation has since been associated with a lighthearted and often ironic attitude, where the speaker is not taking their words seriously.

Spread & Usage

How did Tongue in Cheek spread?

By the 1800s, this expression was already well-known and widely used. However, its meaning was not always clear.

In Sir Walter Scott’s “The Fair Maid of Perth,” published in 1828, the phrase was used ambiguously, leaving readers to interpret it as either an ironic expression or a display of contempt. It wasn’t until 1842, when Richard Barham published his poem “The Ingoldsby Legends,” that “Tongue in Cheek” took on its definitive meaning of conveying irony in a serious manner.

Today, the phrase is a staple of our language, used to convey humor and sarcasm in a way that is both clever and subtle. So, the next time someone uses “Tongue in Cheek” in conversation, you can appreciate the long history and evolution of this witty expression.

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External resources

Merriam-Webster – Tongue in Cheek

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