A double entendre is a phrase or figure of speech that could have two meanings or that could be understood in two different ways. One of these meanings is often humorous, bawdy or even risqué. Keep reading for several double entendre examples from literature, movies and everyday conversation.
Double entendres can be funny or inappropriate depending on what the speaker is trying to say. Examples of conversational double entendres include:
- You look really hot! (said to someone who is sweating, other meaning is being really attractive)
- I'd love to see your melons! (said to a produce grocer, other meaning references a woman's breasts)
- Mr. Halloway keeps touching his organ. (said about a person who plays the organ in church, other meaning refers to male genitalia)
- He's got a huge package. (said about a person carrying a large box, other meaning refers to male genitalia)
- Uh oh, I've got a soggy bottom! (said by a baker whose cake is moist on the bottom, other meaning refers to a person's bum)
Some may call these comments "Freudian slips," which are errors that supposedly reveal one's subconscious thoughts or feelings. However, a difference between double entendres and Freudian slips is that Freudian slips are outright errors, while double entendres are simply phrases with two different meanings.
One of the earliest known examples of a double entendre found in literature dates back to Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century. Classical and modern writers use double entendres to establish sexual innuendo and humor in their plays or books. Examples of literary double entendres include:
- "And prively he caughte hire by the queynte, / And seyde, 'Ywis, but if ich have my wille, / For deerne love of thee, lemman, I spille.'" - Nicholas in "The Miller's Tale" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (queynte refers to both "a pleasing thing" and female genitalia)
- "Tis no less [a good day], I tell you; for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon." - Mercutio in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (referring to the hand of a clock and indicating a hand on one's genitalia)
- "No less! Nay, bigger; women grow by men." - The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet (meaning that women's lives improve by men, and women also grow when they become pregnant by men)
- "On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I’ve now realised for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest." - Jack from Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (meaning that it's important to be honest and it's important to have the name Earnest)
- "Lady, shall I lie in your lap?" - Hamlet from Shakespeare's Hamlet (meaning shall I rest my head on your knee and shall we sleep together)
Readers confuse double entendres with euphemisms, as both can be risqué in literature. However, euphemisms are words or phrases that replace more inappropriate words (such as "a rendezvous" instead of "a sexual encounter") and don't serve double meanings as double entendres do. Innuendo is also different from double entendres — although both can have a sexual meaning, innuendo only has one meaning, while double entendres have two.
Because double entendres are words or phrases that can be interpreted in two ways, they aren't always sexual in nature, and sometimes they are not even intentional. Some examples of accidental double entendres as newspaper headlines include:
- Panda Mating Fails: Veterinarian Takes Over (it sounds like the veterinarian will be mating with the pandas)
- Miners Refuse to Work After Death (it sounds like the miners are refusing to work after they have died)
- New Obesity Study Looks for Larger Test Group (it sounds like the obesity study is looking for larger people for their test group)
- Children Make Nutritious Snacks (it sounds like children are the snack)
- Criminals Get Nine Months in Violin Case (it sounds like the criminals will spend nine months inside a violin case)
You may notice that some of these double entendres rely on puns or other types of wordplay. They make sense in both interpretations, but the second meaning is a little sillier.
Double entendres, when used intentionally, can be entertaining because they get a laugh both from people in the know and from people who do not get the second (or sexual) meaning. For example:
- In an episode of The Simpsons, when Marge was about to board a ship to Skull Island, Smithers said "I think women and seamen don't mix," using the homophone for "semen."
- The Bellamy Brothers song "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold it Against Me)" plays on the colloquial meaning of "hold it against me" as "be angry with me," as well as the literal meaning of holding one's body.
- Another episode of The Simpsons features gold being discovered in the river. Kent Brockman says "Thanks, Mayor Simpson! From now on, we'll all be taking golden showers," referring to the colloquial term for urinating.
- In Finding Nemo, the characters are told "Ok, everyone, think dirty thoughts!" They're referring to thoughts that will literally dirty the tank, but adult viewers know that "dirty thoughts" can also refer to indecent thoughts.
- "Brand New Key (The Rollerskate Song)" by Melanie describes a girl with brand new rollerskates looking for a boy with a key. The first, literal meaning of the song is innocent, but the second meaning can have a more sexual interpretation.
Movie and television producers often use double entendres to both entertain kids (who do not get the second, sexual or tawdry reference) and parents (who do get the second reference). It's an effective way to increase their viewing audience.
Double entendres appear to be innocuous, but a closer look may reveal a bawdy meaning behind the words. They're just one way to use wordplay to establish a silly or risqué tone in your writing. For more examples of wordplay and double meanings, check out examples of paraprosdokians that will tickle your funny bone.