Definition of Innuendo
An innuendo is a veiled remark about someone or something that indirectly insinuates something bad or impolite. When taken literally, an innuendo can sound quite innocent, yet it hides a more unsavory meaning. Innuendoes can be used to criticize or cast aspersions on someone or a particular situation. While some innuendoes can be humorous, they are often meant to discredit or defame.
The word innuendo comes from the Latin word innuendum, which meant “a hint by way of signaling” or “a nod.” The definition of innuendo retains this idea of a word or phrase hinting or signaling a different meaning, though innuendo has taken on a negative connotation in common usage.
Difference Between Innuendo, Euphemism, and Double Entendre
The definitions of innuendo, euphemism, and double entendre are all very similar in that these figures of speech seem innocent in one meaning and veil a second meaning. However, there are some key differences.
A double entendre, when used intentionally, is always done so humorously and not necessarily to target anyone in a negative way. An innuendo, on the other hand, is a hint at something negative and may not be humorous.
A euphemism is a polite term used to mask and refer to an impolite term, and thus it is used so as not to offend anyone’s sensibilities. An innuendo is used in the opposite way, i.e., to offend someone if they are able to understand the veiling meaning.
Common Examples of Innuendo
We use innuendo examples all the time in ordinary language. In English, the phrase, “If you know what I mean” almost always signals an innuendo has just been made. Backhanded compliments can also sometimes be examples of innuendo, such as “I wish I were as confident as you to wear something so revealing.” The innuendo is that the person in question actually is showing too much skin.
There are countless examples of innuendoes in songs, advertising, and television shows, to name just a few sources.
Innuendoes in Songs
- “Well lay back and relax while I put away the dishes/ Then you and me can rock-a-bye/ You can ring my be-e-ell.”—Ring My Bell by Anita Ward
- “How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the?”—How Many Licks? by Lil’ Kim, feat. Sisqo
- “And rock right up to the side of my mountain
Climb until you reach my peak, babe, the peak, babe, the peak
And reach right into the bottom of my fountain.”—“Rocket” by Beyonce
Innuendoes in Television
- Ross: “I’m gonna make myself happy.”
Chandler: “Do you want us to leave the room?”—Friends, Season 5, Episode 11
- Homer: “I’m going to the backseat of my car with the woman I love. And I won’t be back for ten minutes!”—Simpsons, Season 1, Episode 9
- Marcy (George’s girlfriend): “So, speaking of exes, my old boyfriend came over late last night, and yada yada yada, anyway, I’m really tired today.”—Seinfeld, Season 8, Episode 19
Significance of Innuendo in Literature
Authors use innuendo much the same as we use it in everyday speech. Authors choose to use innuendo examples to make veiled references to things, either in the narration or by having one of the characters say something with innuendo. These innuendoes can be sexual in nature, or refer to other demeaning aspects of a character or situation. Readers appreciate the chance to bring their own critical thinking to a text, and examples of innuendo can often be subtle and more difficult to understand. Thus, reading and interpreting innuendoes can make the reading experience more pleasurable.
Examples of Innuendo in Literature
COUNTESS: Have you, I say, an answer of such fitness for all
CLOWN: From below your duke to beneath your constable, it
will fit any question.
COUNTESS: It must be an answer of most monstrous size that
must fit all demands.
(All’s Well that Ends Well by William Shakespeare)
William Shakespeare was one of the most notorious writers of innuendo in the all of English literature. There are countless examples of innuendo in his plays and poetry. In the above dialogue between the Countess and the Clown, both characters are speaking in a playful and veiled ways, sharing innuendoes back and forth. The Clown has asserted that he has an answer that fits all questions, and the Countess flirtatiously responds that this answer must be of “monstrous size.” Clearly, they are both referring to the Clown’s genitalia, and there is not much subtlety about their joking innuendoes. The Clown makes it even more obvious by saying “below your duke to beneath your constable,” more references to sexual intercourse.
A number of The Times which might, because of changes in political alignment, or mistaken prophecies uttered by Big Brother, have been rewritten a dozen times still stood on the files bearing its original date, and no other copy existed to contradict it. Books, also, were recalled and rewritten again and again, and were invariably reissued without any admission that any alteration had been made. Even the written instructions which Winston received, and which he invariably got rid of as soon as he had dealt with them, never stated or implied that an act of forgery was to be committed: always the reference was to slips, errors, misprints, or misquotations which it was necessary to put right in the interests of accuracy.
(1984 by George Orwell)
The innuendoes in George Orwell’s dystopian 1984 are much more sinister than the playful nature of many of Shakespeare’s innuendoes. In the above quote from the book, the main character Winston is considering his job, which is to rewrite history. The Party does not make any explicit reference to the fact that they are constantly rewriting events and quotes to fit the narrative they want to tell in the present moment. Instead, they resort to innuendoes about this editing of the past with the words “slips, errors, misprints, or misquotations.” They make the innuendo as well that this is for the sake of accuracy, when it’s actually for the sake of aligning things to their current worldview.
You come to fetch me from my work to-night
When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree.
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea;)
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.
(“Putting in the Seed” by Robert Frost)
Robert Frost’s entire poem “Putting in the Seed” is one long innuendo that can also be considered a conceit. While one innocent reading of this poem is that the narrator is simply thinking about gardening, clearly there is another deeper meaning at play here. Frost uses suggestive words and images like “smooth bean and wrinkled pea,” “sturdy seedling with arched body,” and, of course, the eponymous “How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed.” This is a highly sexual poem in nature, and Frost makes his point through many innuendo examples.
Test Your Knowledge of Innuendo
1. Which of the following statements is the best innuendo definition?
A. An explicit remark meant to insult.
B. An insinuation that refers to something impolite to say openly.
C. A veiled declaration of praise.
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2. Why might an author choose to use an innuendo example?
A. To provide a subtle second meaning that forces the reader to think critically.
B. To compliment a character and show how morally sound he or she is.
C. To anger the reader.
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3. Which of the following quotes from Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis contains an example of innuendo?
Even as the sun with purple-colour’d face
Had ta’en his last leave of the weeping morn,
Rose-cheek’d Adonis hied him to the chase;
Hunting he loved, but love he laugh’d to scorn;
Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him,
And like a bold-faced suitor ‘gins to woo him.
‘Thrice-fairer than myself,’ thus she began,
‘The field’s chief flower, sweet above compare,
I’ll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale:
Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.
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