Laugh up one’s sleeve

Laugh up one’s sleeve is an idiom. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common saying laugh up one’s sleeve, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

To laugh up one’s sleeve means to find something secretly amusing, to laugh at someone or something inwardly, without showing any sign of one’s mirth. The image invoked is the act of covering one’s facial expression with one’s arm. The expression laugh up one’s sleeve was originally laugh in one’s sleeve, and came into use in the sixteenth century. Related phrases are laughs up one’s sleeve, laughed up one’s sleeve, laughing up one’s sleeve.


One wonders if the mayor is trolling the city, laughing up his sleeve as he performs what would resemble a successful chief executive’s lame-duck victory lap, if things weren’t unraveling so disastrously. (New York Post)

George Bush could be forgiven if he is down in Houston laughing up his sleeve at President Clinton’s continuing embarrassment at the hands of the Chinese. (Baltimore Sun)

Whatever he chooses, it is highly improbable that Hollande will come out of this without a scratch and Nicolas Sarkozy is reportedly laughing up his sleeve patiently waiting for the next general election. (London Economic)

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