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50 Mistreated Words and Desecrated Phrases: Tongue and cheek

Maybe they’re just kidding. That’s what it means to say something with tongue in cheek. Of course, it would be fairly impossible to say much with tongue out of cheek.

But I digress.

No one speaks with tongue and cheek. It’s not correct English. It’s not even biologically feasible. Don’t get cheeky with me. Cheeks have little or nothing to do with speech.

Those who utter the expression, “tongue and cheek” probably deserve a tongue lashing for using incorrect language.

On the other hand, it’s pretty common to talk with tongue in cheek.

The expression points to irony, insincerity, jesting, joking, or sarcasm. When a person doesn’t mean what he or she is saying, perhaps even to the point of having trouble keeping a straight face, one might describe the comment as tongue in cheek. It’s not something to be taken altogether seriously.

Still, good manners may require that one turns the other cheek, so to speak, when someone uses this phrasing incorrectly in conversation. On paper, however, an editor might have trouble holding back.

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