Tongue-in-cheek

tongue in cheek by peter harvey

Tongue-in-cheek is a figure of speech 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. In the past, it may also have indicated contempt, but that is no longer common. By 1842, the phrase had acquired its contemporary meaning. Early users of the phrase include Sir Walter Scott in his 1828 novel ‘The Fair Maid of Perth.’ The ironic usage originates with the idea of suppressed mirth—biting one’s tongue to prevent an outburst of laughter.

Putting one’s tongue into a cheek was formerly used to signify contempt. For example, in Scottish author Tobias George Smollett’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: ‘He looked black and pronounced with a faultering voice, ‘O! ’tis very well—damn my blood! I shall find a time.’ I signified my contempt of him by thrusting my tongue in my cheek, which humbled him so much, that he scarce swore another oath aloud during the whole journey.’

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