Double Entendre – A literary device
Double entendre is a literary device and a figure of speech in which a word, phrase or a sentence can be understood in two ways, with one meaning being the obvious and the other being more risqué and loose. Pronunciation of double entendre will take on a slight French accent and you can say it in style as 'double an-taan-dra'. Double entendre is also very closely related to Amphiboly, Ambiguity, Freudian Slip, Homophones, Puns and Innuendo – all of which point toward uncertainty in language. Let's find out what this literary device is all about.
What is the meaning of double entendre?
Double entendre is a uniquely harrowing literary plot device because once you know how to spot it, you will start thinking that it's everywhere – in newspapers, magazines, films, books and other sources of popular culture. Unlike other plot devices like Red Herring or Deus Ex Machina, double entendres are often used to convey a hidden sexual meaning, although many writers claim that they innocently enter their sentences only to make a revelation later. They are especially used in entertainment which is programmed to target audiences of a younger and elder age group at the same time. The platonic meaning appeals to the kids while the innuendos entertain adults.
How a double entendre is perceived by the audience and communicated by the speaker is an art by itself. The key is to not let anyone know whether the innuendo was intentional or not, sexual or not, hinted or not and most importantly understood or not! If the audience fails to understand, a double entendre turns into an 'Entendre Failure'. And if the audience interprets an innocent statement as a double entendre, it becomes 'Un Entendre', as the French would say it.
History of double entendre
Double entendre has enjoyed popularity from the Shakespearean era. Much of Elizabethan literature demanded lewd, demi-monde style comedy. From Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet to As You Like It, Shakespeare has used several sexual innuendos in his writing. In the early 19th century, there was a moral crackdown on the bawdy style of humor that plagued British theater and literature and it was considered to be offensive to the women in the audience. In fact, Lord Chamberlain in the royal court was given the prime duty of cracking down on popular culture which used innuendos in humor. Double entendres thereafter have become more sophisticated and polished. The more hidden the meaning, the more enjoyable the Double Entendre is!
Here is a quote by Edward Moore, English dramatist who thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed the Use of Double Entendre.
"Of all the improvements in polite conversation, I know of nothing that is half so entertaining and significant as the double entendre. It is a figure in rhetoric, which owes its birth, as well as its name, to our inventive neighbours the French; and is that happy art, by which persons of fashion may communicate the loosest ideas under the most innocent expressions....."
Interesting examples of the use of Double Entendres
Double Entendres generally appear as in-jokes and common mistakes as seen on public signage. Here are few example of its interesting use.
- Slow Children Crossing the Road (Traffic Sign)
- We Dispense Everything with Care (Pharmacist' Sign)
- Our X-ray unit will give you an examination for tuberculosis and other diseases which you will receive free of charge. (Public Service Announcement)
- Come to us for unwanted pregnancies (Sign outside a gynaecologists' clinic)
Here are some other double entendres examples as used in popular culture.
- The ladies of the local charity have given their clothes away. You may go to check them.
- In Bob Dylan's famous song 'Rainy Day Women #12 & 35' , there is a Double Entendre in 'Everybody must get stoned' in which he refers to the practice of punishment in the Bible on one level and inducing oneself with drugs on the other.
- The African-American Blues music functioned essentially on Double Entendres in their lyrics. Whether it is Bessie Smith's "I want a little sugar in my bowl" or Clarence Carter's "Grandpa can't fly his kite because grandma won't give him no tail", Double Entendres were heavily laden in the genre of Blues.
Memorable Double Entendre Quotes
Here are a few quotes containing intentional and unintentional Double Entendres. Enjoy splitting up!
- "I'm a woman of very few words, but lots of action" Mae West, famous American actress
- "I'm the kinda girl who works for Paramount by day, and Fox all night" Mae West, famous American actress
- "We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed" Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers
- "I feel like a million tonight - but only one at a time" Mae West, famous American actress
- "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" Mae West, famous American actress
- "This is really a lovely horse. I once rode her mother" Ted Walsh, a horse raving commentator
- "If I told you you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?" Groucho Marx
Double Entendre trivia
- Although the term Double Entendre finds its origin in the French language, the French have completely abandoned this term and now use Double Sens in place of Double Entendre.
- As a tribute to Double Entendres, literary terms such as triple entendres and single entendres have also been coined. These have been used in Bond movies such as Moonraker, Goldfinger, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, Benny Hill comedy shows and other films like Madagascar, Shrek, Star Wars, Wallace and Grommit.
- Many classics from Homer's 'The Odyssey' to Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales' to Dickens' 'Oliver Twist' to Percy Shelley's poems and more have made extensive use of Double Entendre.
- "It's too big to fit in my mouth" is one of the most commonly used Double Entendres ever. In fact, most people who use it never really mean it!
- American actress Mae West (1893-1980) was so famous for her usage of Double Entendres that she once said "If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning".
- Double Entendres have lent themselves naturally to dry humor which is most frequently noted in British comedy culture. The trick of generating this type of humor is the deadpan delivery of dialogue as seen in a British commercial which said something on the lines of "When you are cooking use water which is just enough to cover your vegetables. The same goes for having a bath".