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.