Is There Room for the Double Entendre in Modern Day Society?

It’s not as big as you think

What’s rude, dirty and has been making people laugh for centuries? The double entendre.

The double entendre has been slipping in and out of British culture since at least the 10th century. The first use of double entendres can be found in The Exeter Book, (circa 990 AD). This ancient document contains numerous innuendo based riddles. The most obvious being what is stiff and hard and hangs by the thigh of a man? A key, of course.

Such humour is evident in more than a hundred years of the British Music Halls. And several decades of Carry On films. Also well known are the seaside postcards of Donald McGill. At the time they were publicly vilified and eventually banned.

Copyright Donald McGill Museum & Archive, supplied by Geoff Robinson Photograph

But, is the use of double entendres not deemed outdated in this enlightened climate of #MeToo?

Only last year a British butcher was warned by his local police to ‘tone down’ the use of sexual innuendos on his sandwich board outside his shop. Quicker than the butcher could skin his sausage, his local bobbies informed him that someone had taken offence to phrases such as ‘horny sausages,’ ‘big cocks’ and ‘big-breasted birds’ being written on his chalkboard. Were all of the butcher’s innuendos even intelligible? Who does the offer of a ‘horny sausage’ offend? Is there a victim?

It is worth noting that none of the butcher’s customers had complained. A local reporter took down their particulars. They told the reporter the butcher was a lovely, friendly man. And they love the quality of his meat.

Sexual innuendos are easily dismissed as smutty one-liners, merely cheap jokes to describe acts, desires and behaviours that some sections of society deem inexpressible. But at their most effective they are a tool for social change. From the 1960s onwards such humour played a large part in bringing homosexuality into being an acceptable social norm within British society. If we have such a powerful tool in the palm of our hands, should we be asked to put it away?

Should we be intolerant of anything that may cause offence? Or just stick with us all being grown-up about it? Sometimes it feels like the only thing we can all agree to be intolerant of is gluten.

A statistician once told me 69% of people find something dirty in every sentence.

If you want to avoid sentences with sexual innuendos in them take my advice; don’t think long and hard about it.

“Doctor please, I want to be wooed.”

“You can be as wude as you like matron.”

Carry On Matron (1972)

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