I'm looking for a word that means saying something with an insincerely serious tone, usually for comedic effect. I feel like the word facetious is close to what I'm looking for, but not exactly.

"Surely, you can't be serious," they said. "Of course I'm serious," he replied [word-ly], "And don't call me Shirley."

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

  • Does irony apply? – DJohnson Mar 25 '18 at 16:45
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    "The phrase tongue-in-cheek is a figure of speech that describes a statement or other expression that the speaker or author does not mean literally, but intends as humor or otherwise not seriously." (wiki) Couldn't add an answer, so commenting here. – PatrickT Mar 26 '18 at 19:26

10 Answers 10


The word deadpan is probably the best fit. It can be used as an adjective or adverb (or a noun or a verb):


marked by or accomplished with a careful pretense of seriousness or calm detachment; impassive or expressionless:
deadpan humor.


in a deadpan manner:
He spoke his lines utterly deadpan.

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.

  • 8
    has always connoted unemotional, disinterested to me. Serious ≠ deadpan. E.g. in the OP's example the replier "Of course I'm serious" wouldn't be deadpan, but rather concerned, or taken aback by the asker's doubt. At least to me – theonlygusti Mar 24 '18 at 19:53
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    @theonlygusti really? It's the first word I thought of as I read the question ... the only better answer (which isn't a single word) is mock-serious. – Will Crawford Mar 25 '18 at 23:21
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    Deadpan is also a verb: "'Of course I'm serious,' he deadpanned." – Rahul Mar 26 '18 at 5:55
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    tongue-in-cheek also fits: the notion being that one is keeping a straight face when saying something funny in a serious way by biting one's tongue. – user234902 Mar 26 '18 at 7:54
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    @theonlygusti I think you're not getting the joke in that passage of text, which is a play on words between "surely" and "Shirley". It's from the movie Airplane, which is a tongue in cheek comedy playing on the popularity (at the time) of "disaster movies". "Deadpan" can be used to denote a lack of emotion, but it's most commonly used in the context of the delivery of comedy. – Max Williams Mar 26 '18 at 9:20

straight faced TFD straight′-faced′ (-fāst′) adj. straight′-faced′ly (-fāst′lē, -fā′sĭd-lē) adv.

A face that betrays no sign of emotion.

As in:

He was a very straight-faced prof, but he has a tremendous sense of humor.

She was watching me totally straight-faced and it took a couple of seconds before it dawned on me that I'd just been had.

And here is an article on some famous straight-faced comedians: article


The word that came to my mind was "dry wit". A search of "dry wit" will bring you to Laurel's answer. Laurel's answer is better anyway, and more common.

14. Humorous in an understated or unemotional way: dry wit.
definition of dry



Sarcasm is an ironic or satirical remark that seems to be praising someone or something but is really taunting or cutting. Sarcasm can be used to hurt or offend or can be used for comic affect.


Sardonic comes from the Greek adjective Sardonios, which actually describes a plant from the island of Sardinia that supposedly made your face contort into a horrible grin...right before you died from its poison. The Greeks used sardonic for laughter, but we only use it when someone's humor is also mocking or ironic.


This is a form of understated humor. As others have suggested "deadpan" and "dry wit" are typical forms of understated humor. There is another word that describes it, and that is "Laconic"

A deadpan reply is usually also laconic, delivered tersely, without too many words and faking disinterest.

(...) “Don't look at me,” he said in a conversational tone. “I am slipping a little Browning into the pocket of your oilskin. There — do you feel?” “It is very heavy,” she said. “What am I to do with it?” “Shoot,” he said laconically (...)

  • What is your example quote from? It sounds like a book I would very much enjoy reading. :) – MissMonicaE Mar 26 '18 at 16:17
  • @Missmonicae I just Googled "he said laconically". I'll try to track it down. – Stian Yttervik Mar 27 '18 at 1:21
  • Ha, this answer is the 3rd Google result for me now but it seems to be by Edgar Wallace. I only find the quote in GB results for collections, so if you don't turn anything up I'll ask on Lit.SE. – MissMonicaE Mar 27 '18 at 12:16
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    @missmonicae I am on vacation so not exactly at my computer, so sorry if it is going to take me a while :P – Stian Yttervik Mar 27 '18 at 14:13

What about the word whimsical (made or done for fun, not seriously):

"Surely, you can't be serious," they said. "Of course I'm serious," he replied whimsically, "And don't call me Shirley."

Another good one would be glibly (speaking or spoken in a confident way, but without careful thought or honesty):

"Surely, you can't be serious," they said. "Of course I'm serious," he replied glibly, "And don't call me Shirley."


Mock-sententiously is an expression commonly used in talking about this sort of thing, if the type of serious air in question is self-important.

You might find this discussion of satire helpful, as it defines the use of mock-heroic in parody.

  • I've only heard this as "mock seriousness". – brichins Mar 27 '18 at 0:43


curious in a way that provokes dry amusement


For this context, I would consider slyly. Even if it might not be exactly what are you asking for, it still might be the word you are looking for. From dictionary.com:

in a roguish or mischievous way:

Some were serious, while others slyly winked at the camera.

"Surely, you can't be serious," they said. "Of course I'm serious," he replied slyly, "And don't call me Shirley."



verb (used without object)

  1. to speak in a playful, humorous, or facetious way; joke.
  2. to speak or act in mere sport, rather than in earnest; trifle (often followed by with):

    Please don't jest with me.

(of course this "thing said or done" can vary according to many criteria, but is still applicable across this "comedic spectrum").

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Where did this definition come from? I've never heard of any such word. Do you mean jestingly? – Martin Smith Mar 25 '18 at 10:36

protected by tchrist Mar 25 '18 at 14:23

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