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Double Entendre: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Defining Double Entendre
  • 1:50 Example: Nobody Did It
  • 2:40 Example: Children Make…
  • 3:30 Example: Paging Mr. Al…
  • 4:10 Example: ...Would You…
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You may have heard the expression 'Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana,' or one similar to it. If so, then you probably already know more about double entendres than you might think. Get the dirt on this often 'dirty' play on words, along with a few examples.

Think Again: Defining 'Double Entendre'

Originally borrowed from a rare and obsolete French term for 'dual understanding', a double entendre is a word or phrase used in a way that conveys two meanings. Quite often, the word or phrase has a surface meaning, with a second meaning behind it, which is often of a coarse or sexual nature. The second meaning can be intentional or unintentional. Take this example from the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies: when Bond gets a telephone call while in bed with a Danish girl, he explains he's 'brushing up on a little Danish.' This is Bond's intentional joke about what he's really doing at the moment.

So, how does this figure of speech accomplish such a semantic feat? Users of double entendres rely on the innate ambiguity that exists in the various ways a word or phrase can be employed. Puns are excellent for use in double entendres, particularly when they make use of homophones (similar sounding words or phrases) or homonyms (words spelled and pronounced the same with different meanings).

Many double entendres feature secondary meanings of an 'indelicate' nature. That is to say, the double entendre often employs puns and other forms of wordplay that provide a sexual or otherwise obscene connotation. Alas, all of the examples in this lesson are pretty 'PG,' but there are plenty of racier ones out there that you may have already run into and didn't even realize it! Double entendre may be an old French term, but even ancient Greeks like Aristophanes loved to use puns and sexual innuendo to put their audiences in hysterics.

Example: Nobody Did It

Who would've thought that double entendres could get you out of trouble? In Homer's epic Odyssey, the title hero uses a double entendre to trick the dull but monstrously hungry Cyclops, Polyphemos. Upon being blinded, Polyphemos demands to know his attacker's identity. Odysseus cleverly replies that his name is actually Oudeis, which also happens to be the Greek indefinite pronoun meaning 'no one.' This prompts the Cyclops to run out of the cave and yell: 'No one has hurt me!' to the other Cyclopes, which causes them to do nothing, and Odysseus and his men escape. In this example, it's actually the Cyclops himself who has unknowingly used the double entendre.

Example: Children Make Nutritious Snacks

Although people quite often use multiple meanings for intended comedic effect, many of the funniest double entendres are unintentional, and the media is full of them. Take, for instance, the headline 'Children Make Nutritious Snacks.' It forgets to take into account the ambiguity of the word 'make,' so we end up with both the possibility that these children are 'manufacturing' nutritious snacks (the intended meaning, probably) and that children are nutritious snacks (to be eaten).

Other examples of unintentional double entendres found in headlines that may or may not be real include 'Miners Refuse to Work After Death,' 'Farmer Bill Dies in House' and 'Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim'. Jay Leno devoted an entire segment of his late-night talk show to double entendres found in the media.

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