In an ironic manner, not meant to be taken seriously.
This phrase clearly alludes to the facial expression created by putting one’s tongue in one’s cheek. This induces a wink (go on – give it a try!), which has long been an indication that what is being said is to be taken with a pinch of salt. It may have been used to suppress laughter. ‘Tongue in cheek’ is the antithesis of the later phrase – ‘with a straight face’.
The term first appeared in print in ‘The Fair Maid of Perth’, by that inveterate coiner of phrases, Sir Walter Scott, 1828:
« The fellow who gave this all-hail thrust his tongue in his cheek to some scapegraces like himself. »
It isn’t entirely clear that Scott was referring to the ironic use of the expression. A later citation from Richard Barham’s The Ingoldsby Legends, 1845 is unambiguous though:
He fell to admiring his friend’s English watch.
He examined the face,
And the back of the case,
And the young Lady’s portrait there, done on enamel, he
Saw by the likeness was one of the family;
Cried ‘Superbe! Magnifique!’ (With his tongue in his cheek)
Then he open’d the case, just to take a peep in it, and
Seized the occasion to pop back the minute hand.
- The latest movie I watched was a tongue in cheek look at the way the media tends to over-hype certain pieces of news.
- One of the speakers at the business conference gave a tongue in cheek speech about the current economic condition of the country.
- His comments were intended to be tongue in cheek, but his friends took it seriously and that started a huge argument.
- He offered a tongue in cheek explanation on why his favourite team was losing repeatedly, saying something about keeping the tournament interesting till the last stages.
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