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What is a Double Entendre?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A double entendre is a word or phrase which has dual meanings, one of which is often sexual in nature. When someone incorporates a double entendre into a seemingly innocent sentence, he or she is said to be “making a double entendre.” Such jokes have been part of human existence probably almost as long as language has, and they show no signs of dying out yet. It is also possible to make such as joke on accident, given the wide variety of euphemisms and slang terms in many languages for sexual activity.

Because a double entendre is not explicitly or obviously sexual, such jokes often appear in entertainment which in theory is appropriate for children, such as situation comedies on television. Younger viewers may find these shows amusing or funny, but not usually for the same reasons that adults do. Double entendres may also potentially be used in polite conversation by jokesters, who can defend themselves by claiming that the statement was purely innocent, implying that the sexual interpretation is the result of a dirty mind.

The word “entendre” is borrowed from the French, where it means “interpretation or meaning.” The French themselves would be more likely to use sens, for “sense” when discussing what English speakers call double entendres. In any case, double entendres are among a larger family of plays on words known as puns, and many people who pride themselves on being painfully punny have a number of double entendres in their repertoires.

Comprehension of a double entendre suggests a certain amount of acquaintance with the subject; for people who do not understand the joke, it can be disconcerting when listeners laugh at an apparently innocuous statement. It is of course possible to come up with double entendres which are not related to sexuality, like “hunting for the best game,” which could refer to game in the sense of game animals or game in the sense of an activity. However, most enduring double entendres are sexual in nature.

For students of word history, tracing double entendres can be quite entertaining. Shakespeare, for example, used abundant double entendres in his plays, in keeping with the preference for bawdy material among Elizabethans. These plays on words can pop up in some surprising places; the Bible, for example, refers to Peter as “the rock on which the church stands,” making a reference to the Greek word for “rock,” petras.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By jessiwan — On Apr 11, 2018

Double entendres do not necessarily have to be sexual. When they are well-crafted, they are clever. One needs to have an agile mind and a firm grasp of the language to come up with good ones. I remember seeing this image, where the planet Earth says to all the other planets in the solar system: "You guys have no life". I thought it was clever and there was no sexual meaning at all.

@wander: I think it's exceedingly difficult to translate double entendres from one language to another. Take this poster's example: someone loses his clothes, and he puts on a box that says "may contain nuts". If I were to translate this into my language, I could do it, because we have a corresponding word in our language for the English word "nuts". However, the secondary meaning would be completely lost on the audience, because in my language, the word "nuts" strictly means things like walnuts, almonds, pistachios, things like that. It does not have a second meaning of being a man's testicles.

In my mother tongue, which is Mandarin, we have a lot of words that sound exactly the same, so it's quite easy to come up with puns. Double-entendres are relatively rare, because not too many words and phrases have multiple meanings (we are a simple people). Whereas in English, there are comparatively more double entendres, because quite a few words in English have more than one meaning. I think it's kind of cool to compare languages like this.

By wander — On Sep 06, 2011

Has anyone else ever been in a movie theater filled with people who's first language isn't English?

I have spent a lot of time abroad and I think one of the hardest things to translate is a double entendre. More than once I have been in a movie theater and cracked up laughing while the rest of the audience just remained silent. The Western friends that I go out with are also snickering, so it just isn't my bad sense of humor rearing its ugly head.

I suppose that when I watch foreign films I am really missing out on a lot too. So much of what goes into making a movie funny can really come down to subtlety.

By Sara007 — On Sep 05, 2011

If you have kids and watch enough kids movies, you are shortly going to realize that there is a ton of double entendre in them, as well as pop culture references, that no one but an adult is going to get.

I think this use of double entendre is actually very clever. The parents that are accompanying kids to a two-hour long movie really need some entertainment too. We'd probably be bored out of our minds if there wasn't some humor in there that was on our level.

Some of the best examples I can think of can be found in movies Shrek and Madagascar 1 and 2. Just watch the movies and see how many instances of double entendre you can spot.

By malmal — On Sep 04, 2011

AH, double entendre. I love it. I especially love calling people on saying anything sexual-sounding that wasn't intended that way by following up with a quick, "That's what SHE said."

By VivAnne — On Sep 04, 2011

Ah, wow, so that's what the name means! I got here while searching for more information on the Double Entendre drink they mix up at bars. I had a vague idea of what it meant, but didn't know exactly until now, so thanks WiseGEEK!

There's also a double entendre drink, if anyone's interested. Just google it and you can find the recipe, it's really tasty!

By seHiro — On Sep 03, 2011

@TheGraham - I can see where you're coming from. I used to hate double entendre humor with a burning passion. It wasn't because I didn't find it funny, but rather because my friends would all try to find some sexual meaning in lines that weren't at all intended that way.

After reading the double entendre wiki, this article and the comments on it, though, I'm beginning to realize that many of the things I was defending as innocent might have put those double entendres in on purpose.

If they did it on purpose...well, then I can laugh without feeling like I'm mocking my favorite shows and movies. I'm really going to think of double entendres differently from now on, and I think it's going to be fun.

By TheGraham — On Sep 03, 2011

@ElbowTickle - Oh my god -- I'm never going to think of Yoda the same again now!

Double entendre is something I'm just now getting the hang of. Another name for it, in my opinion at least, is taking things out of context with humorous intentions.

I guess up until a few years ago I've been a bit of a prude, so I would roll my eyes when others made double entendres even though I got them. I've finally realized it's silly to pretend to be disgusted when secretly I do find them funny, though.

By ElbowTickle — On Sep 02, 2011

@Calvin77 - If you're looking for a very funny show that has lots of double entendre, try Wallace and Grommit. For example, the hero loses his clothes and quickly wears a box as pants, labeled on the side "May contain nuts."

The famous double entendres in my circle of friends all come from "Star Wars." I'm pretty sure all of them are unintentional, but god they are funny. Some of them are so cringe worthy, it hurts.

"The Empire Strikes Back" is the best in my opinion -- just watch it and you'll see what I mean.

By w00dchuck41 — On Sep 02, 2011

Shakespeare used excessive amounts of double entendre in his work -- some of them not so subtle. I always cringe when the school I work for takes kids to see a Shakespeare play.

When they are reading the plays, it's easy to miss a sexual phase -- but when the actors are performing it on stage, it's hard to miss it. The same goes for kids' movies -- since they don't usually show the double entendre on screen, kids can miss it.

I think double meanings are very funny and I love the subtle ones that are in kids shows, but sometimes they are too blatant. Middle school kids can easily pick up on those.

@Calvin77 and MedicineBall - I don't know if I think double meanings shouldn't be allowed in kids movies, but they need to be cleverly hidden. Disney can be easily interpreted as having lots of innuendos, but I doubt a kid is going to find them.

As weird as it is, "Hello Kitty" seems to have a lot of things that can be double entendre. The large dog character in particular has a few lines that made me do a double take.

By MedicineBall — On Sep 01, 2011

@Calvin77 - I think that there are some double entendre in Disney movies, but I agree with you -- they probably are unintentional.

The debates about it I read were just people claiming that lines in the movies they misheard were sexual. Even after the scripts were out, they think that Disney is trying to cover it up. It's ridiculous.

As the article said above, people usually have to be familiar with the meanings of double entendre to get the joke. So even if Disney laced their movies with double meanings, the kids aren't likely to pick up on them. Why are they even worrying about it!

I think it gives adults something to laugh at while they are watching the movies. My son has made me sit through so many boring kids' movies -- if only the creators would add a little double entendre to them! The kids aren't going to notice.

I haven't seen "One Stormy Night" but it sounds ideal. My son likes wolves and I like snickering. Bring it on.

By Calvin77 — On Aug 31, 2011

I think that double meaning entendre is one of my favorite types of humor. A double entendre is an expressive and great way to keep family movies fun for everyone. While the kids are laughing at whatever is on screen, parents can snicker to themselves over the double meaning.

There has been an ongoing debate if Disney movies have double entendre meanings in them. I personally think that they do -- but they might not have been intentional. Since adult minds are fine tuned to pick up wordplay, they can find some even in something completely innocent.

There is a particular kid's movie that was packed full of double entendre to me. It's called "One Stormy Night." It's a cute little movie about a wolf and a sheep that become friends.

Their friendship is completely pure and nothing sexual is ever insinuated on screen -- but the dialogue is hilarious for any adult. The movie was translated from Japanese, but whoever did it was absolutely brilliant.

I know that the guy that translated it stuck closely to the original. I wonder if it's still that funny in Japanese? If so, I can see why it got translated! If anyone likes double meanings -- check it out. It's one of my favorite snicker-fest movies.

By nony — On Aug 31, 2011

@SkyWhisperer - I think I heard Andy Griffith once say that he didn’t think much stuff on television today was funny, and I partly agreed with him and somewhat agree with you.

However, to say that the double entendre represents a lack of comedic talent is a stretch in my opinion. It has become the staple of comedy in many ways.

Shakespeare certainly didn’t lack talent, and he used these comedic devices in abundance according to this article. I do agree, however, that the double entendre should not be overused nowadays - otherwise it loses its effectiveness.

By SkyWhisperer — On Aug 30, 2011

While I enjoy the occasional double entendre like everybody else, I do find it to be among the lowest form of humor. That is because much of it is sexual, and I don’t think that it takes much cleverness to come up with sexual humor.

As a matter of fact, too many of today’s situation comedies, in my opinion, rely on double entendres as the bulk of their jokes. To me this indicates that we have a severe shortage of comedic talent; I think the early comedies of years gone by were much funnier.

Sexual humor, whether it masquerades as double entendre, puns or whatever is just not that funny to me.

By MissDaphne — On Aug 30, 2011

Thanks for the reference to Shakespeare! So many people today think of Shakespeare as a ruff-wearing, hoity-toity playwright, but the Elizabethans were a bawdy, earthy people (not at all like the Victorians) who smelled bad.

Shakespeare had an enormous audience to entertain. He wrote for kings and queens and also for those famous "groundlings" who paid very little to stand on the dirt near the stage.

So the double meaning jokes were essential! At the beginning of Julius Caesar, for instance, there's this whole exchange about the word "cobble," which of course meaning making shoes in its most literal meaning. My high school textbook mentioned that it could also mean "bungle," but our teacher was kind enough to inform us that it also meant something not unlike the F-word.

By anon125193 — On Nov 08, 2010

thank you so much. i had to do research for my english and i didn't understand it fully until now.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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