“She touched his organ, and from that bright epoch, even it, the old companion of his happiest hours, incapable as he had thought of elevation, began a new and deified existence.” (Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, 1844)
A double entendre is a figure of speech literally, “double meaning”, in which a spoken phrase, a word or expression is devised to be understood in in two different ways. Often the first, more obvious meaning, is straightforward, while the second meaning is less so – often subtle, risqué or ironic and typically sexually suggestive.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes a double entendre as being used to “convey an indelicate meaning”.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes a double entendre as:
1 : ambiguity of meaning arising from language that lends itself to more than one interpretation
2 : a word or expression capable of two interpretations with one usually risqué
Double Entendres are often used because of carelessness on the part of the speaker or writer who uses them. Double entendres are funny, but are liable to convey the wrong meaning to the listeners or readers. When speaking or writing, we must make ourselves understandable for our readers. If they cannot grasp what we are trying to say they may lose interest. So to hold our listeners’ or readers’ interest, we must remain unambiguous.
Examples of Double Entendres:
See if you can discern the different meanings and then read below to see what the meanings actually are.
1. The ladies of the Walnut Street Mission have discarded clothes. They invite you to come and inspect them.
2. It pays to remember your social obligations. If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t come to yours.
3. Traffic Sign: Slow Children Crossing.
4. We stand behind every bed we sell.
5. Police authorities are finding the solution of murders more and more difficult because the victims are unwilling to cooperate with the police.
6. Testimonial from an insurance firm: My husband and I took out a home insurance policy with your company. In less than a month our house accidentally burned down. I consider it a blessing.
7. Prostitutes appeal to Pope.
8. Public Service Announcement: Our X-ray unit will give you an examination for tuberculosis and other diseases which you will receive free of charge.
9. Church Announcement: What is hell? Come to church next Sunday and listen to our new minister!
10. Come to us for unwanted pregnancies.
11. I cannot get sick pay. I have six children. Can you tell me why?
The truth is that some people read things differently, and they may think exactly the opposite of whatever the true meaning of the sentence is. Now, enjoy the double entendres of these actual news headlines.
1. Include Your Children When Baking Cookies.
2. Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers.
3. Iraqi Head Seeks Arms.
4. Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over.
5. Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half.
6. Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.
7. Miners Refuse to Work After Death.
8. Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant.
9. Stolen Painting Found by Tree.
10. Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter.
11. If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last a While.
12. Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide.
13. Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge.
14. New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group.
15. Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Space.
16. Kids Make Nutritious Snacks.