An idiom arising from the earlier part of the 1800’s.
Meaning of Tongue in Cheek
Tongue in cheek is an idiom referring to the way something is said. It means that someone is joking or speaking in a facetious or ironic manner but seems to be serious.
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When someone wishes to convey that they were not being serious, perhaps to allay another person’s anger or shock at something they’ve said, they will use this idiom to explain themselves: “I was just speaking tongue in cheek.” It can also be used to characterize statements made by other people.
Examples Of Use
“Of course I don’t believe that women belong in the kitchen, said Hugh, it was a tongue in cheek comment.”
“It’s only a thousand dollars? I may as well buy three,” Penny said tongue in cheek.
This idiom is thought to have originated with the practice of sticking your tongue in your cheek, something people used to do after making a joke, most likely to keep from laughing or smiling. The way the expression is used today does not, of course, indicate an actual facial expression. It is sometimes suggested that this action, of sticking your tongue in your cheek, was done to create a comical facial expression, to make it known that you were joking or take the seriousness out of a statement. If so, this action would be similar to winking or eye rolling. See also keep a straight face.
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