A double-entendre is a phrase or figure of speech that could have two meanings or that could be understood in two different ways.
- Innocent or innocuous
- Tawdry, bawdy or has some sexual overtone
There are many examples of double-entendre found in literature and in life. In fact, even William Shakespeare and Chaucer used double-entendres.
Historical Use of Double-Entendre
One of the earliest known examples of a double-entre found in literature dates back to the 14th century. In his famous work, The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer used many different examples of double-entendres. On of the most famous, however, is the use of the word “queynte” to describe both the domestic and womanly duties in the home as well as the female genitalia.
Double-entendre has been found in literature, movies and daily speech every since.
Some other examples of double-entendre include:
- Mercutio’s line from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: Tis no less [a good day], I tell you; for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon.
- Charles Dickens character in Oliver Twist named Charley Bates but frequently referred to as Master Bates (the term masturbate was already in use when Dickens wrote Oliver Twist and had the same meaning then as it does today).
- The name of the James Bond character Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (Pussy is a slang name for the female genitalia)
- The name of the Belamy Brother’s song “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me.” Would you hold it against me is an expression asking if you would be offended, but in this case, it can also be read as asking the person with the nice body to physically hold it against him.
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 that have been printed in newspapers or published on the Internet include:
- Panda mating fails: veterinarian takes over
- Miners refuse to work after death
- New obesity study looks for larger test group
- Children make nutritious snacks
- Criminals get nine months in violin case
Fun of the Double-Entendre
Double-entendres, when used intentionally, can be fun and entertaining because the idea is to get a laugh both from people in the know and from people who do not get the second (or sexual) meaning.
- 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.”
- In another episode of the Simpson’s, gold is discovered in the river and Kent Brockman says “Thanks, Mayor Simpson! From now on, we’ll all be taking golden showers.”
- In Finding Nemo, the characters are told “Ok, everyone, think dirty thoughts!”
These are just a few of many examples, as often movie and television producers today will use double-entendres so that shows and movies are both entertaining for kids (who do not get the second, sexual or tawdry reference) and for parents who do.