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1933, from phrase to speak with one's tongue in one's cheek "to speak insincerely" (1748), which somehow must have been suggestive of sly irony or humorous insincerity, but the exact notion is obscure.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Examples from the web for tongue-in-cheek
  • They're both tongue-in-cheek comments, but good thought experiments nonetheless.
  • The tongue-in-cheek revue also included dancing canoes and tabletop hockey players.
  • The tongue-in-cheek humor continued when she was asked how she finally wrangled the gig.
  • Though said tongue-in-cheek, it's still a sweeping statement.
  • Five familiar fairy tales rewritten with tongue-in-cheek endings.
  • They enjoyed her use of myth and metaphor and appreciated her skill in making their meanings literal, yet tongue-in-cheek.
  • Contemporary fables with tongue-in-cheek morals address such topics as homework, curfews, and television commercials.
  • She was talking a little bit tongue-in-cheek about the types of things in the technical annexes.
tongue-in-cheek in Culture

tongue-in-cheek definition

Ironically: “The critic's remarks of praise were uttered strictly tongue-in-cheek.”

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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