What Is a Double Entendre?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Mae West - double entendre
"I used to be Snow White, but I drifted": a double entendre from American actress Mae West. (John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)

A double entendre is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase can be understood in two ways, especially when one meaning is risqué. Also called innuendo.

One of the most famous double entendres in American advertising is the slogan created by Shirley Polykoff to promote Clairol hair coloring: "Does she or doesn't she?"

The phrase double entendre (from the French, now obsolete, for "double meaning") is sometimes hyphenated and sometimes italicized.

Examples and Observations

  • "Rebecca Kordecki . . . created little booties and a slide kit to use while performing moves that strengthen and lengthen the body. The name Booty Slide is a double entendre, she explains: 'We wear the booties on our feet, but the workout also lifts your booty.'"
    (Carlene Thomas-Bailey, "American Fitness Crazes Hit the UK." The Guardian, Dec. 28, 2010)
  • "While many mento songs are about traditional 'folksong' subjects, from political commentary to simple day-to-day life, a disproportionately large number of the songs are 'bawdy songs,' often featuring poorly-veiled (and delightfully funny) sexual double-entendres. Popular mento songs include references to 'Big Bamboo,' 'Juicy Tomatoes,' 'Sweet Watermelon,' and so on."
    (Megan Romer, "Jamaican Mento Music 101," About.com World Music)
  • 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: Miss Brahms could hardly shift hers at all just now.
    Mr. Lucas: No wonder she was late.
    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.
    (Mollie Sugden, Nicholas Smith, Trevor Bannister, and Wendy Richard in Are You Being Served?)
  • "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)
  • 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!
    (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene three)
  • "It's impossible to ignore the prominence of water as a primary motif in black spiritual culture—from the debilitated Gospel pleas to be 'washed white as snow' to the rebellion-coded double entendre 'wade in the water,' which referenced both baptism and escape routes from slavery."
    (William J. Cobb, To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic. NYU Press, 2006)
  • Women's Use of the Double Entendre in 18th-Century England
    "Of all the improvements in polite conversation, I know of nothing that is half so entertaining and significant as the double entendre. It is a figure in rhetoric, which owes its birth, as well as its name, to our inventive neighbours the French; and is that happy art, by which persons of fashion may communicate the loosest ideas under the most innocent expressions. The ladies have adopted it for the best reason in the world: they have long since discovered, that the present fashionable display of their persons is by no means a sufficient hint to the men that they mean any thing more than to attract their admiration: the double entendre displays the mind in an equal degree, and tells us from what motives the lure of beauty is thrown out. . . .
    "The double entendre is at present so much the taste of all genteel companies, that there is no possibility either of being polite or entertaining without it. That it is easily learnt is the happy advantage of it; for as it requires little more than a mind well stored with the most natural ideas, every young lady of fifteen may be thoroughly instructed in the rudiments of it from her book of novels, or her waiting maid. But to be as knowing as her mamma in all the refinements of the art, she must keep the very best company, and frequently receive lessons in private from a male instructor."
    (Edward Moore, "The Double Entendre." The World, No. 201, Thursday, Nov. 4, 1756)

Pronunciation: DUB-el an-TAN-dra

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Double Entendre?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/double-entendre-meaning-1690472. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). What Is a Double Entendre? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/double-entendre-meaning-1690472 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Double Entendre?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/double-entendre-meaning-1690472 (accessed March 29, 2023).