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Are there any differences in the meaning of or when we use the idioms 'no joke' and 'no laughing matter'? The definitions in the Cambridge Dictionary are:

  • be no joke: to be serious or difficult

  • no laughing matter: very serious

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Those are pretty accurate, even if simple.

"Be no joke" is ironic because the phrase itself is pretty jokey. It has a comedic edge. And it primarily means that something is difficult to contend with. If I wanted to literally say that something wasn't a joke, I'd say "it's not a joke" instead.

"Be no laughing matter" is more like what it sounds like. It's used of tragedy or hardship. It means that you should avoid laughing because there is no intention of comedy and it would be inappropriate.

In practice, there is some overlap, but those are the main connotations.

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    To supply some examples: Oxford gives "trying to shop with three children in tow is no joke" (it's not much fun, not something to be undertaken lightly). Cambridge gives "getting stuck up a tree is no laughing matter" (it might seem a comical situation but could haver serious consequences). Jul 9, 2023 at 8:25

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