laugh in one’s sleeve: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘laugh in one's sleeve’ mean?

The idiom "laugh in one's sleeve" means to secretly or quietly find something amusing or funny without showing it openly.

Idiom Explorer

Invisible Mirth

The idiom "laugh in one's sleeve" is a commonly used expression in the English language. It suggests a hidden or secret amusement, where someone quietly and smugly enjoys a situation or mocks someone without them realizing it. It conveys a sense of subtle mockery or satisfaction.

This idiom is often used when someone finds humor in another person's misfortune or when they have successfully pranked or deceived someone. It emphasizes the hidden nature of the laughter, suggesting that the person is trying to suppress their amusement rather than openly expressing it.

The exact origin of this idiom is uncertain, but it is believed to have its roots in the act of laughing into or behind one's sleeve. This gesture was common during the Middle Ages, particularly in social situations where openly expressing amusement or ridicule was considered impolite. Hiding laughter behind a sleeve allowed people to conceal their true feelings or intentions. Over time, this physical act became associated with the idiom itself.

Mocking laughter hid their secret with concealed delight.

While "laugh in one's sleeve" is still widely used today, its popularity has decreased over time. It is more commonly used in written English or formal situations, and younger generations may be less familiar with its usage. Nevertheless, it remains an effective way to convey a sense of subtle amusement or mockery.

One related idiom is "ace up one's sleeve." This phrase refers to having a secret advantage or a hidden plan that can be used to gain an advantage over others. Just like "laugh in one's sleeve," it conveys the idea of something being hidden or concealed. When someone has an "ace up their sleeve," they have a secret weapon or strategy that gives them an edge in a situation, often in a competitive context.

Another related idiom is "have a laugh." This phrase is used to invite or encourage someone to have a good time and enjoy a moment of amusement or humor. It suggests the idea of finding something funny or entertaining, just like "laugh in one's sleeve." Unlike the other two idioms, "have a laugh" does not carry the same hidden or secret connotation. Instead, it focuses on the act of enjoying a lighthearted and humorous experience.

The idiom "laugh in one's sleeve" has a long history and has retained its meaning and usage over the years. It is a phrase that conveys hidden amusement or satisfaction and is often used in situations where someone finds humor in another's misfortune. While its origins remain uncertain, it is believed to have originated in the Middle Ages, with the act of laughing into or behind one's sleeve. Overall, this idiom captures the essence of silent amusement, revealing a range of complex emotions and human behavior.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "laugh in one's sleeve" can be used in a sentence:

  1. After playing a prank on his coworker, John couldn't help but laugh in his sleeve.
  2. Despite receiving criticism from his classmates, Jake would often laugh in his sleeve and shrug off their remarks.
  3. She managed to keep a straight face during the meeting, but inside she was laughing in her sleeve at her colleague's ridiculous idea.

More "Expression" idioms