double entendre

[ duhb-uhl ahn-tahn-druh, -tahnd; French doo-blahn-tahn-druh ]
/ ˈdʌb əl ɑnˈtɑn drə, -ˈtɑnd; French du blɑ̃ˈtɑ̃ drə /

noun, plural dou·ble en·ten·dres [duhb-uhl ahn-tahn-druhz, -tahndz; French doo-blahn-tahn-druh]. /ˈdʌb əl ɑnˈtɑn drəz, -ˈtɑndz; French du blɑ̃ˈtɑ̃ drə/.

a double meaning.
a word or expression used in a given context so that it can be understood in two ways, especially when one meaning is risqué.

QUIZZES

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Which of the following animal names traces its immediate origin to Portuguese?

Origin of double entendre

From obsolete French, dating back to 1665–75; see origin at double, intend
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What else does double entendre mean?

A double entendre is a word or expression that can be understood in two ways, especially when one meaning is risqué. If you’ve ever cracked a that’s what she said joke, you’ve created a double entendre.

Where does double entendre come from?

In French in the 16th century, double entendre was an expression meaning “double understanding” or “ambiguity”—something that could be construed in two ways.

Its modern French form is double entente (like double intent), but double entendre became fixed in English at least since it was used by John Dryden in his 1673 comedic play Marriage à la Mode.

Early uses of double entendre in French and English were used to call out duplicitous or evasive language meant to deceive someone, wriggle out of the long arm of the law, or deviate from Christian virtues in some way. One early French author even warned that “girls must be firmly on their guard against double entendres,” as they might “poison these poor, sweet, delicate girls.”

By the early 19th century, double entendre honed in on its wordplay sense, especially sexual innuendo.

How is double entendre used in real life?

Double entendre usually describes sexually suggestive wordplay ranging from Shakespeare’s use of sword to pun on “penis” throughout his 1590s Romeo and Juliet to rockers Led Zeppelin’s use of squeeze my lemon for “sexual stimulation” in their “Lemon Song” in 1969.

Less commonly, double entendre can also describe other wordplay, such as life’s a beach.

While double entendres themselves aren’t usually appropriate in a professional context, the expression double entendre is considered a learned, if not uncommon, term.

More examples of double entendre:

“Showcasing uncanny vintage wit, Cella Blue fashions a double entendre out of an intruder rifling through her dresser with anonymous sex in standout cut ‘Who’s That in My Drawers?’”
—Kevin Curtin, The Austin Chronicle, June, 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for double entendre

British Dictionary definitions for double entendre

double entendre
/ (ˈdʌbəl ɑːnˈtɑːndrə, -ˈtɑːnd, French dubl ɑ̃tɑ̃drə) /

noun

a word, phrase, etc, that can be interpreted in two ways, esp one having one meaning that is indelicate
the type of humour that depends upon such ambiguity

Word Origin for double entendre

C17: from obsolete French: double meaning
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for double entendre

double-entendre
[ (dub-uhl-ahn-tahn-druh; dooh-blahnn-tahnn-druh) ]

A word or expression that has two different meanings (in French, double-entendre means “double meaning”), one of which is often bawdy or indelicate. A double-entendre is found in this sentence: “A nudist camp is simply a place where men and women meet to air their differences.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.