Learn idioms with comprehensive meaning, examples and origin details.


tongue in cheek

tongue in cheek


  • something said in humour, but with an act of being serious
  • say something in an ironic way
  • say something jokingly, but appearing to be serious
  • jocular or humourous
  • not to be taken seriously


  1. The latest movie I watched was a tongue in cheek look at the way the media tends to over-hype certain pieces of news.
  2. One of the speakers at the business conference gave a tongue in cheek speech about the current economic condition of the country.
  3. His comments were intended to be tongue in cheek, but his friends took it seriously and that started a huge argument.
  4. 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.

This phrase is a literal reference to the facial expression created when putting the tongue in one’s cheek. It also includes a wink, to signify that what is being said is not to be taken seriously. The phrase first appeared in print in “The Fair maid of Perth” by Sir Walter Scott in 1928. While it is not clear whether the current meaning was implied in this usage, a later appearance in Richard Barham’s “The Ingoldsby Legends” in 1845 is clear.

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1 Comment

  • Expression: Sanjay writes on 9 November, 2016

    The fair maid of Perth was in 1828. Not in 1928. Please correct it.

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