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Tongue in cheek?
作者:中国日报…    文章来源:中国日报-英语点津    点击数:28    更新时间:2017/2/26   

Tongue in cheek?Reader question:

Please explain “tongue-in-cheek” in this passage:

George served two years in the Army, part of that time in Europe during the last of World War II. He often said, with tongue-in-cheek, “the allies had fought the war quite a while and Eisenhower was doing a pretty good job, but when I got there, it only took Ike and me thirty-eight days to end that whole ugly thing.”

My comments:

It took Ike and everybody else, Allied forces and Russia all together years to resist and contain Hitler. When George came onto the scene and joined forces with Ike, however, the Second World War was swiftly ended – in a matter of days, thirty-eight days to be precise.

Such was the powers of George.

When George told the story, he did it with tongue-in-cheek. That means he meant it as a good joke (and it was).

Tongue in cheek, you see, refers to the facial expression people sometimes wear when they want to maintain a straight face to prevent themselves from laughter. Literally, they push their tongue sideways, either left of right, into the cheek.

In print, we cannot actually see the bulge in George’s face as he pushes his tongue into the cheek in an attempt to maintain a straight (serious) face while telling the story, but the words tongue-in-cheek gives us the picture.

Anyways, if someone says something (usually shocking or astounding and funny) and they do so with “tongue in cheek”, they mean to tell it like a joke. They mean for you to take it light-heartedly and not seriously.

George’s story reminds me of a story about Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points in a game, the only time it’s ever happened in the NBA, a professional basketball league in North America. One teammate of Wilt’s, I cannot recall his name, did not score in the game. But whenever this teammate of Wilt’s gets a chance to tell that story (and he gets the chance a lot, for sure), he tells about the game in which he and Wilt “combined for 100 points”.

That’s a great way of putting it, of course, and we can imagine him straining all his facial muscles, tongue firmly in cheek, to conceal his own mirth.

All right, here are a few media examples of tongue in cheek:

1. Back in the must-win state of Ohio, President Obama said Mitt Romney’s tax policies would create 800,000 jobs, but, “They wouldn’t be in America.”

At the first town meeting-style event of his re-election campaign, Mr. Obama cited “a new study by independent economists” that concluded Romney’s plan to eliminate taxes on the foreign income of U.S. companies would create jobs abroad, not in the United States.

“They’d be in other countries,” said the president in remarks to a wildly supportive crowd of 1,200 gathered in the Cincinnati Music Hall.

The Obama campaign spotlights the study's conclusion that tax reforms supported by Romney “would significantly increase incentives for U.S. firms to move economic activity abroad.”


On the lighter side, a little girl asked to know his favorite Girl Scout cookie.

“This is one of the toughest questions,” the president said with tongue-in-cheek. He said he liked the thin mint cookies, which drew boos from aficionados of other products from the Girl Scout bake shop. “Peanut butter are good too,” said the president.

- In Ohio, Obama rips Romney on jobs, CBSNews.com, July 16, 2012.

2. A Conservative MP has faced a social media backlash after sharing an info-graphic claiming the now defunct British Empire had won the most medals at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Heather Wheeler, who has represented South Derbyshire since the 2010 general election, posted the image from the Gudio Fawkes blog after the European Parliament seemed to suggest that the political and economic union had secured the most medals in Brazil. The Brussels controlled Twitter account claimed the EU had won 325 medals, putting it in pole position ahead of the USA’s 121 medals and China’s 70 medals.

The official Rio medals table, which ranks gold medals over grand totals, put the USA first (46), Great Britain (27) second and China third (26).

Wheeler has since stressed her Tweet was a “tongue-in-cheek” pop at the European Parliament.

“I also wanted to congratulate Team GB on a brilliant result and thirdly congratulate the Commonwealth countries who also did very well,” she told the Burton Mail.

“Fourth, I am also looking forward to establishing new trade agreements. That was it – nothing more. Let’s just enjoy the summer!”

But the Eurosceptic, who is currently on holiday in the south of France according to her office, was urged to apologise by Labour MP David Lammy. The Remain campaigner called the post as “unbelievable” and “so deeply offensive to so many people and their ancestors”.

- Tory MP defends ‘tongue-in-cheek’ British Empire Olympic medal post amid backlash, IBTimes.co.uk, August 23, 2016.

3. It was, arguably, the most telling moment of Donald Trump’s inauguration speech.

People want good schools, neighborhoods and jobs, said the incoming president. “But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

“This American carnage,” promised Trump, “stops right here and stops right now.”

Leave aside the dubious veracity of painting our admittedly challenged nation as a hellish doomscape — “American carnage?!” Really? — and ponder instead what he actually said there. Poverty, unemployment, miseducation, crime and drugs, issues that have bedeviled every nation and all generations, came to a screeching stop “right here … and right now” at noon on January 20th.


Because there’s a new sheriff in town, pardner. Because he’s putting his foot down. Because he says so. If Trump gave any other reason — if he has ever given any other reason — it escaped notice. No, once again, we are promised a magic solution through the sheer force of his will.

It’s silly enough that you want to laugh until you remember that 63 million Americans didn’t get the joke, that they took this stuff seriously. Indeed, they took it seriously enough to make him leader of the free world.

Never mind that Trump is really just that guy at the end of the bar who, with beer-lubricated certainty and megaphone volume, tells you how to solve humanity’s most intractable problems. And maybe as he’s speaking, as you’re under the spell of it, it sounds like wisdom. But the next morning, you sober up and see it for the hogwash it is.

Unfortunately, America has not sobered up yet.

It will soon. If the country is even halfway serious about resolving its challenges, it has no choice.


In the meantime, if there is a silver lining here, it is that the GOP now has the White House, the Congress and no excuses. So the rest of us would like to know when we can expect America to be “great again?” Is there a date the party would like to share?

Yes, the question is tongue in cheek, but it is also meant to point out what has always been painfully obvious and became even more so after the new president finished ordering poverty to get out of town by sundown. Namely, that it was all always an act, a fake, a con, even if voters have been slow to figure that out.

Bluster is not governance and the world doesn’t stop being complicated because you tell it to. Maybe even Donald Trump doesn’t know that yet.

But he’s about to find out.

- Our problems aren’t solved by yelling, Amarillo.com, January 22, 2017.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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