In most cases a risqué or sexual element is central to the understanding of the double entendre. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a double entendre as especially being used to "convey an indelicate meaning". In these cases, the first meaning is presumed to be the more innocent one, while the second meaning is risqué, or at least ironic, requiring the hearer to have some additional knowledge.
My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:The speaker believes the king's sole intended meaning of "despair" was that nobody could hope to equal his achievements, but that the traveler found another meaning – that the mighty are mortal and will inevitably share his fate of oblivion in the sands of time. This portrayal of an unintended double entendre exemplifies a case of the double entendre as the poet's figure of speech.
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Bawdy double entendres, such as "I'm the kinda girl who works for Paramount by day, and Fox all night", were the trademark of Mae West, in her early-career vaudeville performances as well as in her later movies.
Another example would be: "I broke a G-string while fingering A minor," which is a double entendre understood only by those who would understand that the G-string is a guitar string and A minor is a chord.
Many commercials for Overstock.com feature double entendres, as an attractive woman talks about the "O" and "Big O", which could refer to the website itself, but clearly call to mind the word "orgasm", which is often called the "O" or the "Big O".
One popular joke that simultaneously contains and defines a double entendre typically is told as: "A girl walked into a bar and asked the bartender for a double entendre. So he gave her one." A variation can be told as: "A man walks into a bar and asks the barmaid for an entendre. She says, 'Certainly sir, single or double?' He says double and she replies, 'OK then sir, yours is a large one.'"
Another popular double entendre involves responding to a seemingly innocuous sentence that could have a sexual meaning with the phrase "that's what she said." An example might be if one were to say "It's too big to fit in my mouth" upon being served a large sandwich. Someone else could then say "That's what she said," turning the statement into a reference to oral sex. This statement was often used by Wayne in the "Wayne's World" Saturday Night Live skits, and is also used many times on the U.S. television show The Office by Michael Scott.Sexual innuendo is common in British sitcoms and radio comedy such as I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and Round the Horne. For example, in Are You Being Served?, Mrs. Slocombe makes frequent references to her "pussy", such as "It's a wonder I'm here at all, you know. My pussy got soakin' wet. I had to dry it out in front of the fire before I left." Someone unfamiliar with sexual slang might find this statement funny simply because of the references to her pussy cat, whereas generally a viewer would be expected to detect the innuendo ("pussy" is sexual slang for vagina'').
The use of innuendo and double-entendre in British comedy is nothing new; Shakespeare frequently used innuendos in his plays. Indeed, Sir Toby in Twelfth Night is seen saying, in reference to Sir Andrew's hair, that "it hangs like flax on a distaff; and I [Sir Toby] hope to see a housewife take thee [Sir Andrew] between her legs and spin it off;" the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet says that her husband had told Juliet when she was learning to walk that "Yea, dost thou fall upon thy face? Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit;", or is told the time: "for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon"; and in Hamlet, Hamlet torments Ophelia with a series of sexual puns, viz. "country" (similar to "cunt.")
Attitudes to this kind of humour have changed enormously since the 19th century. In the Victorian theatre, innuendo was considered unpleasant, particularly for the ladies in the audience, and was not allowed. In the music hall, on the other hand, innuendo was in constant use in songs. (Music Hall in this context is to be compared with Variety, the one common, low-class and vulgar; the other demi-monde, worldly and sometimes chic.)
In the 20th century, there began to be a bit of a crackdown on lewdness, including some prosecutions. It was the job of the Lord Chamberlain to examine the scripts of all plays for indecency.
Nevertheless, some comedians still continued to get away with it. Max Miller, famously, had two books of jokes, a white book and a blue book, and would ask his audience which book they wanted to hear stories from. If they chose the blue book, it was their own choice and he could feel reasonably secure he was not offending anyone.
The blue, innuendo type of humour did not transfer to radio or cinema at that time, but eventually and progressively it began to filter through from the late 1950s and 1960s on. Particularly significant in this respect were the Carry On series of films and the BBC radio series Round the Horne, although this humour is carried because of the apparent "nonsense" language that the protagonists use but in fact are having a "rude" conversation in Polari (gay slang). Spike Milligan, writer of The Goon Show, has remarked that a lot of blue innuendo came from servicemen's jokes, which were understood by most of the cast (who had all served as enlisted soldiers) and many of the audience, but which would pass over the heads of most of the BBC producers and directors, who were mostly "Officer class."
In 1968, the office of the Lord Chamberlain ceased to have responsibility for censoring live entertainment, thanks to the Theatres Act 1968. By the 1970s innuendo had become widely pervasive across much of the British media.
Theoretically, an "entendre" could be extended indefinitely beyond the triple entendre to encompass quadruple entendres, quintuple entendres, et cetera. For the sake of brevity, however, entendres beyond the triple entendre are often referred to as "N-entendres" or "double-n-tendres".
An apocryphal story about Napoleon says that when he attacked Italy, the establishment recognized the futility of resisting and surrendered to his army. However, the peasantry continued to wage guerrilla war, harassing his troops and stealing his supplies. While dining with some Italian aristocrats, Napoleon commented that "All Italians are thieves."
A noble lady present corrected him, stating: "No maestro, non tutti, ma buona parte."
The first meaning is the literal translation, appearing to agree: “No sire, not all, but most.”
The second meaning is: “No sire, not all, but the ‘best’ part” (i.e. those whom you call ‘thieves’ are really the best Italians, the patriots).
The third meaning insinuates that Bonaparte is the thief (for stealing Italy) and that he is Italian ("No, sir, not all, but Bonaparte"). This meaning is particularly biting, as Napoleon hailed from Corsica, where the French population considered themselves to be superior to the Italian population.