November 29, 2012 1 Comment
As a writer, I am constantly challenged. This statement could be understood in two ways, which makes it a really fun figure of speech called the double entendre. Even though I don’t speak much French, I do know that this phrase has something to do with saying two things at once. This makes it a cousin to speaking out of both sides of the mouth, which is what politicians have to learn before they get elected. It doesn’t necessarily involve telling a lie, which is also part of a politician’s portfolio, but can mean two contradictory things. For instance, if I want to tell someone that I don’t buy their particular brand of malarkey, and avoid getting punched in the nose, I will say, “I couldn’t agree with you more”. This could mean I agree wholeheartedly with them, or that I’ve suddenly found it impossible to agree with them. Of course, now that I’ve told you, I can’t use this particular double entendre again – unless I intend the statement to be interpreted only one way, which makes it okay.
Literature is chock full of double entendres, and is a favorite form of wit amongst the most intelligent authors, a class that I haven’t been invited to attend yet. Or maybe I was but just wasn’t bright enough to catch the hidden meaning. A classic example of the double entendre is when Mr. Cannibal arrives home after a long day of shrinking heads, and Mrs. Cannibal says to him “We’re having missionaries for dinner tonight.” The missionaries may very well have thought they would be dining on stew when they rang the Cannibal’s doorbell, but would soon discover that they were in a stew. The 17th century music hall singer, Marie Lloyd, was crazy about putting two meanings in the line of a song because she loved sticking it to the Victorian prudes of the day. One of her songs was entitled “She Sits Among the Cabbages and Peas”. This particular type of double entendre, which is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, is called a “homophone”. The first time I heard that word I thought it was a cruel joke about a gay ET calling home, until I learned it originated from the Greek and means ‘same voice’. Those Greeks were such sly devils, weren’t they?
Don’t confuse double entendre with a double negative, such as ‘bipartisan support’, or doublespeak, such as the person saying ‘bipartisan support’. The double entendre usually has a naughty side to it. The sexy actress of the early silver screen, Mae West once said “I feel like a million tonight – but only one at a time.” My personal favorite, which I advise anyone to say to the opposite sex in a social situation, especially if they want to spend the rest of the evening playing solitaire, is “If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?” If you’re interested in the concept of double entendres without all the hassle of trying to think of one, wait until someone says something, like your friend pondering if his car will make it into a parking spot by saying “I don’t think it will fit.” Without missing a beat, reply, “That’s what she said.” This is what I call the ‘he said, she said’ game, and can be used in almost any circumstances. Usually people will roll their eyes and say “Please!” to which you add “That’s what he said.” See how fun it can be?
You don’t have to go any further than the newspaper headlines to catch examples of a double entendre. “Stolen Car Found by River” “Miners Refuse to Work after Death” “Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Space” “Colonoscope Considered World’s Most Powerful Telescope Because it Sees Far Past Uranus”. The list goes on. I particularly like the headline that read: “Couple Slain: Police Suspect Homicide”. This peculiarity isn’t confined to newspaper headlines, either. There’s a sign down the street that warns “Slow Children Ahead”. Or how about the sign outside a secondhand shop: “We exchange anything – bicycles, washing machines, ect. Why not bring your wife along and get a wonderful bargain?” Some double entendres are so cool they’re sick. I mean, they’re broken. Uh, they’re like my sweat pants: off the hook. Just look around or listen carefully and you’re liable to find one. Let me leave you with a real life example that happened not too long ago: A female news anchor who, the day after it was supposed to have snowed and hadn’t, turned to the weatherman and asked, “So Bob, where’s that eight inches you promised me last night?” The station had to go to a commercial because the crew was rolling around on the floor. If you’re still hungry for more double entendres, you can always ask my friend Hugh Jass. He’s behind me every step of the way.