Example 1

Yesterday, I had a conversation with my roommate regarding the possibility of getting a workbench.

She remarked:

If this is anything like the whiteboard, you'll just take it over completely.

I responded in a slightly defensive manner to which she retorted that she was "just joking". I acknowledge that there is truth in what she said because I have used the whiteboard a lot and I think she took the chance to convey this to me in the form of "a joke".

Example 2

Imagine a conversation amongst two friends: Waldo and Enrique.

Enrique: Waldo, do you know why you can't find a girlfriend?

Waldo: Not this again.

Enrique: My friend, it's because you smell as bad as you look.

Waldo: I don't smell!

Enrique: Of course, I'm just joking my friend. Let's get a drink.

Example 3

Imagine a child who wants to admit their feelings to a parent, but out of embarrassment they add the just kidding clause.

Example 4

Imagine a man (Carter) working at an office and he is having a conversation with the CEO of the company (Candice).

Carter: How did the presentation with the customers go?

Candice: It went alright, but there are still a lot of concerns to deal with.

Carter: That's too bad. * puts pen down on desk, stands up and exclaims * I have an IDEA!

Candice: Let's hear it!

Carter: You should promote me and then we can lead this company to world domination!

Candice: Oh lord. Sit down Carter, I should have guessed.

In this example Carter made a joke, but did not add the just-kidding clause. However, the important point here is that the joke has the underlying meaning--he wants a raise.


This phenomenon is the reason behind the phrase: There's a grain of truth in every joke

Many articles talk about this, but I haven't come across a word for this. Pyschology Today has a good article about this, but doesn't have a name for this.

Sarcasm is probably most often referenced for this because most examples involve hurtful/negative sentiment; however, these pseudo-jokes are not limited to contexts with negative sentiment. In a deeper sense they are related to underlying desires that people want to subtly convey (see example 3 & 4).

I would like to add that I believe Sarcasm is more common in this respect because it is easier to pull off a joke in negative context rather than what is in example 4 (at least in Western culture).

I'm looking for a colloquial word or phrase that describes this type of joke.

  • Sounds like "sarcasm*, Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 19:55
  • 2
    I don't think my first example qualifies as sarcasm.
    – Klik
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 20:09
  • Well, it's your question, but after reading your Psychology Today article, both examples seem to fit right in with "sarcasm", which is the very word they use in the article. Your examples even fit the description that "If the individual is then challenged about his confrontation, he likely backs off and says he was just kidding." Do you have any more examples? Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 20:50
  • I didn't realize there were so many definitions of sarcasm. From the definition you're giving, I see your perspective. Sarcasm is probably most often referenced for this because most examples involve hurtful sentiment/negative; however, these pseudo-jokes are not limited to these contexts. In a deeper sense they are related to underlying desires that people want to subtly convey. For example, imagine a child who wants to admit their feelings to a parent, but out of embarrassment they add the just kidding clause.
    – Klik
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 21:26
  • You should add your example to your question. Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 21:41

9 Answers 9


One common name for this is "kidding on the square." When people are kidding on the square, they are joking, but also really mean what they're saying.



It's a barb - an insult disguised as a joke.


a remark or criticism that is unkind, although it may seem clever or funny

  • 1
    Or a barbed comment / remark / reply / ... Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 18:21

The Jargon File mentions the phrase ha ha only serious:

[from SF fandom, orig. as mutation of HHOK, ‘Ha Ha Only Kidding’] A phrase (often seen abbreviated as HHOS) that aptly captures the flavor of much hacker discourse. Applied especially to parodies, absurdities, and ironic jokes that are both intended and perceived to contain a possibly disquieting amount of truth, or truths that are constructed on in-joke and self-parody.

Another possibility is being ironically sincere: using the trappings of irony, which seem to imply you don't mean what you're saying, to convey a message that's actually sincere. This could also be called meta-irony, although Marcel Duchamp used that phrase to refer to something different.


Its called Coded Language.

If someone is using coded language, they are expressing their opinion in an indirect way, usually because that opinion is likely to offend people.

-Collins online

  • Welcome to EL&U! In this stack exchange we expect a bit more explanation or research for answers that are given. How do you know that it's called coded language, or what is an example of the word being used that way? Feel free to take the tour or ask for advice on how to better answer the question. Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 17:18
  • 1
    Hello, Matt, and welcome to EL&U. I added a definition and linked a source to support your answer. If you are unhappy with the changes, feel free to roll back by clicking on the edit button. Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 18:17

It is being sardonic. M-W: disdainfully or skeptically humorous : derisively mocking

Another word is acerbic: M-W: sharply or bitingly critical, sarcastic, or ironic in temper, mood, or tone


Back in the day, my generation used the phrase "cop out"to describe this.

Cambridge gives the verb cop out:

to avoid doing something that you should do or that you have promised to do because you are frightened, shy, or you think it is too difficult

  • Hi Sherry, answers benefit from sources and citations as well as an explanation of how this answers the question. I'm not sure this phrase fits, but I did add a definition and hope you will edit more. Please do take a moment to see the help center.
    – livresque
    Commented Jun 20, 2023 at 19:16

Barb (n.)

A remark that is funny but unkind:

I tried to ignore their barbs about my new jacket. Cambridge

Dig (n.)

A remark that is intended to criticize, embarrass, or make a joke about someone

He's always taking digs/a dig at me.

UK also He's always having/making dig/a dig at me.Cambridge


You could call it an unfunny joke or a pretend joke, a veiled insult or a supposedly witty remark.

A possible response is

(Blackboard) Would you like to tell me how you really feel about that?

(Bad smell) Okay. Maybe your jokes will start to be funny.


You are describing teasing or kibitzing (originally Yiddish). Also, kidding around.

Definition and usage of tease, from American Heritage® Dictionary 5th Ed.

To say in a playful or mocking way: "But you're too young to get married," he teased.

Definition of kibitz, from American Heritage Dictionary 5th Ed.

To offer unwanted or meddlesome advice, such as that given by the spectator of a card game.

Commonly, kibitzing means shooting the breeze (light conversation), cracking jokes (I dropped my teeth from the kibitzing), even wasting time (Stop kibitzing and finish the job.)

Note that a kibitzer is not a comedian but a joker (clown, goofball, heckler, pest).

  • I’m okay with that being kidding or teasing but I don’t see it as kibitzing at all. And the definition you quote for it makes that clear.
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 9, 2017 at 4:08

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