Oo-er Misses: The British Obsession with the Double Entendre

"Sean Connery 1971" by Mieremet, Rob / Anefo - Nationaal Archief, Nummer toegang 2.24.01.05 Bestanddeelnummer 927-7001. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Sean Connery 1971” by Mieremet, Rob / AnefoNationaal Archief, Nummer toegang 2.24.01.05 Bestanddeelnummer 927-7001. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

If TV and radio are to be believed, the Britain of the 1960s and ’70s was fraught with sauciness and naughty euphemisms. You couldn’t move for double entendres, with programmes including Round the Horne, Are You Being Served? and more Carry On films than you could shake a stick at. Essentially, a double entendre is a word or phrase with two meanings: one obvious, on-the-surface meaning and a secondary implied meaning, which is often sexually suggestive. Though the Brits were particularly enamoured with this type of word play a few decades ago (and continue to be today), it’s by no means modern and can be seen in works by Chaucer and even Homer.

Octopussy

It seems this extreme love for innuendo is a distinctly British phenomenon. Though other nations laugh at double meanings and naughty jokes, no one seems quite as enamoured with giving and taking it as the British. They’re renowned for being stiff and unemotional, but when it comes to comedy are always pushing the boundaries to see what they can get away with. If you’re not familiar with retro British comedy, a more accessible place to get a firm grasp on sexual innuendo is the collection of James Bond films. Bond’s preoccupation with the double entendre and particularly his objectification of women is mocked in the Austin Powers movies, where the jokes are less subtle asides and cheeky retorts, and more over-the-top ridiculousness.

Has Innuendo Come to a Sticky End?

Some would argue that the double entendre has fallen out of fashion. There are many of the opinion that it’s become tiresome and never is or was funny and that we should be above it all. We think there are plenty of people who are still rather fond of it. Perhaps the current generation laughs at them in a different way.

Maybe sometimes the British are slightly mocking, but mostly we know it’s not big and its not clever, it’s immature and silly – and that’s why it’s funny. It’s not a very sophisticated form of humour, but not everything has to be. People are still carrying on the tradition, even if they’re making fun of it, as in the sketch by comedy duo Mitchell and Webb, where a hospital ward that thrives on double entendres is juxtaposed with a blunt doctor who doesn’t understand innuendo at all.

Slip of the Tongue

Arguably, a double entendre is funniest when it’s unintended. So here are some slip-ups from sports commentators and presenters whose mouths were faster than their brains.

“Ah, isn’t that nice. The wife of the Cambridge President is kissing the Cox of the Oxford crew.” – Harry Carpenter at the Oxford-Cambridge boat race 1977

“They seem cold out there, they’re rubbing each other and he’s only come in his shorts.” – Michael Buerk on watching Phillipa Forrester cuddle up to a male astronomer for warmth during BBC1’s UK eclipse coverage

“So Bob, where’s that eight inches you promised me last night?” – A female news anchor to a weatherman, the day after it was supposed to have snowed

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What do you think? Are double entendres funny or stupid and immature? If innuendos are slightly above your English level, contact us for courses in your area, and get your sense of humour up (or down there) with the best of them.