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Title: Tongue-in-cheek  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 1000 Ways to Die, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket, Glen Benton, Psychobilly, Strapping Young Lad
Collection: English-Language Idioms, Humour, Satire
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The Tongue-in-cheek figure of speech is used to imply that a statement or other production is humorously or otherwise not seriously intended, and it should not be taken at face value. The facial expression typically indicates that one is joking or making a mental effort.[1] In the past, it may also have indicated contempt, but that is no longer common.[2]

By 1842, the phrase had acquired its contemporary meaning, indicating that a statement was not meant to be taken seriously.[3][4][5] Early users of the phrase include Sir Walter Scott in his 1828 The Fair Maid of Perth.


  • History 1
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Putting one's The Adventures of Roderick Random, which was published in 1748, the eponymous hero is taking a coach to Bath and apprehends a highwayman. This provokes an altercation with a less brave passenger:[6]

A similar usage appears in 1828 in The Fair Maid of Perth by Sir Walter Scott, "The fellow who gave this all-hail thrust his tongue in his cheek to some scapegraces like himself."

The more modern ironic sense appears in the 1842 poem "The Ingoldsby Legends", in which a Frenchman inspects a watch and cries:[3]

'Superbe! Magnifique!'
(with his tongue in his cheek)

The ironic usage originates with the idea of suppressed mirth—biting one's tongue to prevent an outburst of laughter.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Lindley, E. H. (1896). "A preliminary study of some of the motor phenomena of mental effort". The American Journal of Psychology. 
  2. ^ Ayto, John (2009), From the Horse's Mouth,  
  3. ^ a b Owens, Gene (4 December 2007). Tongue in cheek' is cut-and-dried phrase"'".  
  4. ^ Chay, H., Contrastive metaphor of Korean and English revealed in 'mouth' and 'tongue' expressions 
  5. ^ Zoltan, I. G. (2006). "Use Your Body". Philologia. 
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Marshallsay, Nick (2005), The body language phrasebook, Collins & Brown,  

External links

  • The dictionary definition of tongue-in-cheek at Wiktionary
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