General Question

JonnyCeltics's avatar

Where did the phrase "tongue-in-cheek" come from and what is it's meaning?

Asked by JonnyCeltics (2721points) May 26th, 2008
Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

11 Answers

osullivanbr's avatar

From Wikipedia:
The OED’s earliest recorded use of the term was in a 1933 when a Times Literary Supplement review described Shooting the Bull as “a tongue-in-the-cheek march through newspaperdom”. It appeared in Webster’s Dictionary the following year.

marinelife's avatar

I really don’t think Wikipedia is the best source. In fact, the phrase is quite a bit older than that. There is some disagreement of exactly why it originated. Some sources say when you puts you tongue in your cheek, you automatically wink. Other sources say you tuck your tongue in your cheek to bite it, thus suppressing laughter.

As to the date, from 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.

osullivanbr's avatar

Oh my God. Wikipedia left me down, I don’t know if I can continue with life now. I’m soooo dissilussioned all of a sudden. I was having such a good day until now and all.
Great answer Marina.

marinelife's avatar

@osullivanbr Sorry. The wiki is only as good as its contributors and its quality varies widely. I am sure it is not worth falling on your sword for though!

JonnyCeltics's avatar

OK – thanks @osullivanbr & Marina. So what are you conclusions about what it means? Can you give me a few examples of why/when it is used?

marinelife's avatar

It is used to indicate that the speaker did not not really mean what was said, but in the sense of poking fun at oneself and not taking the issue too seriously.

“Oh my God. Wikipedia left me down, I don’t know if I can continue with life now. I’m soooo dissilussioned all of a sudden. I was having such a good day until now and all,” osullivanbr said tongue in cheek.

“Aren’t all politicians in it for the public good?” the analyst asked, tongue firmly in cheek.”

Hope that helps.

Skyrail's avatar

Relating the wikipedia stuff you could be a good contributor now and enhance the quality of that article by updating it and providing the suitable reference, that is after all why it’s community editable, so that it’s information can be improved as much as possible ;)

marinelife's avatar

@Skyrail Welcome to the collective and thanks for the idea.

osullivanbr's avatar

Welcome skyrail. If you find the people here as nice as I have, you’re in for a pleasurable experience.

Skyrail's avatar

Thanks Marina and osullivanbr, I’ve been reading through a lot of the questions on the answers and it certainly does seem like a wonderful community!

marinelife's avatar

@Skyrail Check out Mangus’s post on the Pirates of the Caribbean thread. It is a masterpiece of tongue in cheek analysis.

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