Double Entendre

File:Mae West in I'm No Angel.jpg

“Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution.”~~ Mae West

Language is many things — a means of communication, the basis for thought, one way to indulge in humor. And since literary devices help make the narrative/speech beautiful and funny, why not use them?

 No reason, really. “Whenever I feel blue, I start breathing again.” ~~ L. Frank Baum

Like with every literary form (and/or double talk), overuse or misuse (worse, even, using it as a trick) sticks out like a red flag and sounds like an annoying alarm.

Beep! Beep! Newbie or show-off here!

Horrified, I tell you, I’m terrified — like most writers, I guess — by the sound of that alarm, and prefer never to hear its sound. At least not after a round of edits. 

But when is such a device a gimmick?

Entertainers are held to different standards — they’re there to entertain, after all — but once an artist presents her art (help me God, if ever the time comes), it is scrutinized, right?

Here is what I mean.

An Internet headline caught my attention the other day. It screamed:  Jay-Z’s List of Double Entendres. Curiosity grabbed my finger and pressed on that lovely link. And voila, there was an article — someone listing the many cool double entendres on the singer’s new album.

Since I’m interested in the device, I read on.

Here’s number 1 on the list: I’m not a businessman, I am a business, man.

The singer has his own style, however does the line fit the definition? Sure, fans don’t care, but writers and readers are so darn curious. It’s what keeps us typing at all hours, what drives us to avoid sleep in favor of a good book. A peculiar bunch of people.   

So, about the phrase — it felt direct, maybe too instructive, as if the artist feared someone might miss the meaning, so a second clause was added to be certain the adoring fans get it. The fans are immensely important in turning the album into what the industry calls instant platinum.

I scrolled down, and there was one part where the artist talked about dropping a triple entendre. The line in question: Oww/Hoes turn their heads like owls/I’m the man of the hour/Triple entendre don’t even ask me how.  The clever entry, it appears, is the play on the words owl and hour, but don’t quote me. It rhymes, so that counts.

So, did the alarm beep here? I’m sure not. Famous artists make up their own words and meanings, and do so with authority.

Me … well … I think double entendres thrive on insinuation and ambiguity, the reason I like using them. I forgive myself for this and for my love of the old rule. It’s a writer thing, (comma police, anyone?), nothing to do with the entertainer.

So, feel free to shake me out of my literary daze, or make it hazier. :)


Photo credit: Mae West, I’m No Angel trailer screenshot; from Wikimedia Commons.

14 responses to “Double Entendre

  1. I’m not fancy enough for double entendres. It takes me a moment to get them but isn’t that the point? Oh, and me and commas? UGH! I am constantly trying to figure those things out too. Anyway, I love when singers write about themselves and just how popular they are and how hard their life has become. I imagine living under a microscope can get to be a pain but they did choose their career and at times it is hard for me to pity them. Especially when they seem to draw so much attention to themselves outside their music. Goodness, didn’t mean to go off on a side rant. Have a good day :)

    • I love your side rant, Lucy. :)
      I like the double talk as a quick joke (especially in dialog) and used only sparingly.
      And commas … yeah, I’m with you. I hide when writers in my group write long emails about their constant annoyance with missing commas. Oh, well.
      I know what you mean about singers bringing up their popularity. So modest they are. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. I so didn’t get the triple entendre, and that’s my problem with most of them. Those I use are TOO simple. LOL

  3. ha. its fun word play…Jay Z actually has a book called decoded that breaks down his songs and all the metaphors and meanings…its pretty cool actually and enlightening to his mind and process….as with anything over use is not good but the essence of hip hop is word play and hidden meaning…pick a different medium and it would not go over near as well…i dunno, i think this album is iffy…a hip hop purist will like it but there are none you are going to hear on the radio…

  4. Another common device new writers overuse is the metaphor. Similes and metaphors have so much more impact when used sparingly–and used appropriately within the context of the story. P.S. I didn’t get the triple entendre, either :-)

  5. Hi Sylvia .. I’m having to think and that is worrying! Not writing (other than blog posts) .. I just write and I’m sure some figures of speech slip in – but I have no idea what they are …

    Writing novels – I admire each and everyone of you .. as I’d really struggle to keep everything down to earth, light … and not produce a stilted piece of writing ..

    I need a grammar course – I suspect! I know many song writers and poets are very clever in the way they can ‘weave words’ together ..

    Cheers and thanks for popping over recently – always lovely to see you .. Hilary

  6. I am not presumptuous enough to call myself a “writer”…yet, but am moved to write every now and then. You are a writer for sure, but if it is over thought and rewritten then is it still you? As for the rhyming thing Leonard Cohen rhymed “hallelujah” with “do ‘ya” and look at the success he has!
    Main thing….have fun.

    • Most writers I know edit extensively, Patricia. As the saying goes: “doesn’t matter if you write garbage, as long as you edit brilliantly.” Still them, all the way. Thanks for reading.

  7. Your topic immediately brought to mind the reporter, who thinking Cary Grant was dead, telegraphed his publicist “How old Cary Grant?” Grant read the question and replied “Old Cary Grant is fine, How you?” Of course the master of the double entendre was Winston Churchill. I’m reading one of the three volume series on his life. What an amazing linguist!

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