EDUCATION PLUS

What is the meaning and origin of "laughing up your sleeve"?

(V. Ram, Thrissur)

Whenever we hear a politician say that he is an honest person or that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, what is our normal reaction? We have a good laugh because we know it is far from the truth. Suppose the politician were standing next to us and making these claims, would we laugh openly then? Probably not. We would probably laugh to ourselves. We would do it in such a manner that the person standing next to us wasn't even aware of the fact that we were laughing. And that is what the expression "laughing up your sleeve" means, to laugh quietly or secretly. When you do this, you are ridiculing the person.

*Nagesh pretended to admire Sachu's paintings, but we knew that he was laughing up his sleeve at her.

*John looked very serious, but he was laughing up his sleeve at the terrible performance.

What is the connection between laughing and someone's sleeve? I understand that in the 16th Century, it was fashionable for men to wear a shirt that had fluffy sleeves. The sleeves were so big that whenever an individual wanted to laugh secretly, he could hide his face in them and do so. This ensured that those around him didn't know what the he was doing.

S. UPENDRAN

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