Double Entendre

Double Entendre Definition

A double entendre is a literary device that can be defined as a phrase or a figure of speech that might have multiple senses, interpretations or two different meanings or that could be understood in two different ways.

Oxford Dictionary says that it “conveys an indelicate meaning”. The first meaning in double entendre is usually straightforward while the second meaning is ironic, risqué or inappropriate.

Double Entendre Examples in Literature

Double entendre is used in literature, everyday life, films, magazines and newspapers to criticize and provide entertainment and sometimes to make people laugh. It is widely used for insinuation and irony. William Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer have made use of double entendres in their works.

Example #1

“Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution” (Mae West, the 2,548 Best things Anybody Ever Said).

The word “institution” in connection to marriage has two meanings in this context. One, it refers to marriage as an important practice of a society. Two, marriage is something that will cause an individual to go to a mental institution.

Example #2

An excerpt from William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene three.

Nurse: God ye good morrow, gentlemen.
Mercutio: God ye good den, fair gentlewoman.
Nurse: Is it good den?
Mercutio: ‘Tis no less, I tell you; for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon.
Nurse: Out upon you! What a man are you!

Are wondering why the nurse reacted negatively when Mercutio was plainly stating the time? This is because he was telling her something more… something that is sexual in meaning (bawdy = lustful; prick = penis).

Example #3

An excerpt from a sitcom “Are You Being Served” by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft.
Mrs. Slocombe: Before we go any further, Mr. Rumbold, Miss Brahms and I would like to complain about the state of our drawers. They’re a positive disgrace.
Mr. Rumbold: Your what, Mrs. Slocombe?
Mrs. Slocombe: Our drawers. They’re sticking. And it’s always the same in damp weather.
Mr. Rumbold: Really …
Mrs. Slocombe: They sent a man who put beeswax on them, but that made them worse.
Mr. Rumbold: I’m not surprised.
Miss Brahms: I think they need sandpapering.

Underwear and the sliding part of a cabinet (where items are placed) are both called “drawers”. One can’t help but laugh when one thinks of drawers as underwear and hears the characters say their drawers are “sticking”, and are thus “a positive disgrace”, and when “…a man who put beeswax on them, ….that made them worse.”

Example #4

An excerpt from a sitcom Are You Being Served by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft.

Mrs. Slocombe: Before we go any further, Mr. Rumbold, Miss Brahms and I would like to complain about the state of our drawers. They’re a positive disgrace.
Mr. Rumbold: Your what, Mrs. Slocombe?
Mrs. Slocombe: Our drawers. They’re sticking. And it’s always the same in damp weather.
Mr. Rumbold: Really …

Mrs. Slocombe: They sent a man who put beeswax on them, but that made them worse.
Mr. Rumbold: I’m not surprised.
Miss Brahms: I think they need sandpapering.

The double entendre is used as in the words like “positive disgrace” and “sent a man…made them worse”. There writer has used double meanings.

Example #5

Event from The Odyssey by Homer.

It happens that Odysseus lands on the island of one-eyed giant Polyphemus and enters his caves with his twelve valiant soldiers. However, he is caught and imprisoned when the Cyclops closed its door with a huge stone wheel. When the Cyclops asks his name, he tells him that his name is “Nobody” and then plans with his surviving soldiers to blind him with a log made hot and sharpened with knives. When they succeed, the Cyclops cries out at the top of his voice saying, “Nobody has hurt me. Nobody is going to kill me.”

Here “Nobody” has been used as a double entendre as it has double meanings. On the one hand, it means that “Nobody” that is Odysseus has blinded him while on the other hand it means that nobody has done this to the Cyclops.

Function of Double Entendre

As double entendre is a phrase that expresses double meanings, the purpose of using double entendre is usually to articulate one thing perfectly and indirectly (which is generally an insult, or an insinuation). Shakespeare made use of this device to add humor to his work. If the audience are able to understand the different meanings that the actors or characters are trying to convey, double entendre will surely create laughter or to put forward a suggestion to the audiences.

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