This phrase alludes to the facial expression created by putting one's tongue in one's cheek. The term first appeared in print in 1828, but isn't entirely clear that it was used with the modern, rather than a literal, sense. A later citation from Richard Barham is unambiguous.
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- (idiomatic) Not intended seriously; jocular or humorous.
- Synonyms: see Thesaurus:witty
- He gave a tongue-in-cheek explanation of why the sky was blue, offering a theory about some primordial discount on light blue paint.
tongue-in-cheek (not comparable)
- (obsolete) With contempt.
- With irony.
- He portrayed them tongue-in-cheek as great lawgivers, as Solons.
- ^ Walter Scott (1828) , chapter VIII, in Fair Maid of Perth: “It is true, the fellow who gave this all hail thrust his tongue in his cheek to some scapegraces like himself; […] ”
- ^ Richard Barham (1845) , “The Black Mousquetaire”, in The Ingoldsby Legends, page 236: “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)”