Tongue in Cheek

Meanings of “Tongue in Cheek”

The phrase “tongue in cheek” means an ironic way of narration. It refers to something that is said humorously but with an intention of being serious.

Origin of “Tongue in Cheek”

The phrase “tongue in cheek” first appeared in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, The Fair Maid of Perth, which was published way back in 1828, where it goes as; “The fellow who gave this all-hail thrust his tongue in his cheek to some scapegraces like himself.”

Later, another author, Richard Barham also used it in his book about legends but within parenthesis as (With his tongue in his cheek). This work was published in 1845 under the title of The Ingoldsby Legends. Since then, the phrase has been used differently by various authors and poets.

Examples from Literature

Example #1

Tongue In Cheek by Ray Hansell

I sit and write
In the dead of night
Wondering how
Wrong becomes right

Because you say you’re sorry
Does that erase
The hateful words you said
Even if said in haste

Are people supposed to forget
All of your crude words
You may say you’re sorry
But the words were still heard

That’s why it’s so much better
To think before you speak
Or you may consider
Saying it with tongue in cheek.

This poem uses the phrase as a metaphor to highlight the damages done by the speech. In the first two stanzas, the speaker wonders how people expect that a simple sorry could eradicate the pain we feel because of their crude behavior. She also wonders about how skillfully they turn their wrongs into rights, using a plain apologetic word “sorry.” The third stanza continues to discuss the same idea that a simple apology cannot reverse this shamefaced approach. However, in the final stanza, the speaker relates the philosophical quote that we should think before we speak, or if we want to say something serious, we should say it with a touch of humor. The poem not only shows the use of extended metaphor but also an explanation of the phrase.

Example #2

Tongue in Cheek by Stanley Cooper

Some things written with tongue-in-cheek
Misunderstood can cause some pique
If someone who is humorless
Fails to see your fun finesse

Humor is a trait to treasure
A trait most often spreading pleasure
To spread a laugh, a smile or two
Seems the human thing to do

Yet sometimes when one’s too cheeky
He may seem to some a bit too freaky
So it may be wise to show restraint
‘Cause freaky is what you know you ain’t.

Stanley Cooper explains the positive role of humor in our life in this beautiful short poem, saying that humor provides us with a chance to say serious things plainly. However, if someone fails to find the element of humor in our writing or talk, he will invent different meanings or interpretations. Although humor intends to spread pleasure and laughter, yet sometimes it causes trouble. Therefore, to avoid misunderstandings, one should stay balanced in his fun. The phrase used in the first line demonstrates its meaning in a connotative sense.

Example #3

Tongue-in-Cheek: The Funny Side of Life by Khyrunnisa A۔

This book offers a beautiful collection of humorous articles dealing with day-to-day experiences as each piece provides the readers with an entertaining account of the misadventures and experiences of an urban woman. These relatable pieces help the readers drive their stress away and enjoy a different side of the world. The writer’s indifferent approach toward life and humorous observations nicely resonate with readers. This shows that the phrase has been used in the same meanings as given above.

Example #4

Tongue-In-Cheek Stories by Mary Jacqueline Pinch

The book, Tongue-In-Cheek Stories, presents us with various stories such as love, revenge, ruthless ambition, brutality in the workplace, loyalty, segregation, murder, guilt, loneliness, Bermuda triangle, and reincarnation. It is through her storytelling technique, the writer experiences different emotions relating them to real-life situations. The use of the phrase in the title is ironic as the intended meaning seems different from the actual meanings of the phrase.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “My history teacher has got a tongue-in-cheek teaching approach that can easily make dry and boring history lessons seem fun.”

Example #2: “A witty and philosophical tongue-in-cheek essay focused on educating people to learn through challenging and doubting, and not by swallowing the concepts taught in the classroom.”

Example #3: “The style is humorous, and often tongue-in-cheek, and expresses the same old thinking and the same results.”

Example #4: “I attended a comedy night last Sunday with my friends. During the show, several comics uttered various tongue-in-cheek remarks about the celebrities of the world that were lauded by the audience.”

Example #5: “Your tongue in cheek humor brought shame for the whole group, for you have no sense how to tackle the tricky situation.”