Innuendo definition: An innuendo is a subtle, indirect comment regarding someone or something.
What is Innuendo?
Innuendos are defined as subtle or indirect comments made regarding a person or thing that are often critical or reproachful in nature. There are several types of innuendos: nature, everyday life, innocent, accidental, and sexual.
Example of Innuendo
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is filled with innuendos specifically sexual ones. Often times when the servants are talking they make several of these comments to highlight their lower class characteristics.
For example, Samson talks to another servant, Gergory, regarding a sword fight, “Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads. Take it in what sense thou wilt”. In this line, the word “maidenheads” is an innuendo for virginity; therefore, he is equating the sword fight to rape.
Innuendo vs. Euphemism vs. Double Entendre
While innuendos, euphemisms, and double entendres all deal with the playful use of words there are differences between these devices.
Euphemisms: Euphemisms refer to words or phrases that are used in replacement in order to sugarcoat the description.
- For example, the term “ethnic cleansing” is a euphemism for genocide, which refers to the systematic killing of large groups of people based on ethnicity.
Double Entendre: Double entendres are phrases that have two interpretations.
- For example, in The Odyssey by Homer, Odysseus uses his cleverness to trick Polyphemus, the Cyclops, by telling him his name is “Nobody”. As a result of him using this name, when the Cyclops shouts to his brothers for help after Odysseus blinded him, they think he means “nobody” hurt him rather than the name of the attack was “Nobody.” This double entendre allows Odysseus to escape the cave.
The Function of Innuendo
Innuendos are an important device used in literature because they engage the reader in interpreting the text. Because innuendos aren’t direct yet subtle in nature, they allow for the reader to have some involvement when decoding these comments. Innuendos also highlight demeaning characteristics regarding whom they are directed towards when being said by characters. For example, in the example above from Romeo and Juliet, by the servants using sexual innuendos towards women, it shows that they have a sexist view towards them.
Examples of Innuendo in Literature
In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout tells her maid, “He ain’t company, Cal, he is just a Cunningham”. In this line, Scout uses the innuendo “just a Cunningham” in a critical way to undermine Walter Cunningham’s status to be lower than hers.
William Shakespeare is famous for his clever ways with words. In Shakespeare’s poem “Venus and Adonis”, the speaker tells her lover “Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry / Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie”. This line of poetry includes sexual innuendo directly in a playful manner.
Summary: What is Innuendo?
Define innuendo in literature: Innuendos can be described as subtle or indirect comments made about a person or thing that are often critical or disparaging in nature.
In the pop song “Milkshake” by Kelis she sings the line, “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.” The term “milkshake” in this line is an innuendo for her sexual appeal.