The Grammarphobia Blog

How do you say “double entendre”?

Q: How should an English speaker pronounce “double entendre”? Like French? Or like English? Or whatever?

A: Let’s begin with a little history.

English adopted “double entendre” in the 17th century from a now-obsolete French phrase that meant double understanding or ambiguity. But English speakers gave the expression a new, suggestive twist.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the phrase this way: “A double meaning; a word or phrase having a double sense, esp. as used to convey an indelicate meaning.”

The earliest citation in the OED is from John Dryden’s 1673 comedy Marriage a-la-Mode: “Chagrin, Grimace, Embarrasse, Double entendre, Equivoque.”

And here’s a 1694 example from Dryden’s play Love Triumphant: “No double Entendrès, which you Sparks allow; / To make the Ladies look they know not how.”

Interestingly, there’s no exact equivalent in modern French to our expression “double entendre.” Two near misses, double entente and double sens, don’t have the suggestiveness of the English version.

So how should an English speaker pronounce our illegitimate offspring? Illegitimately, of course.

Dictionaries are all over the place on this, but we treat “double” as an English word (DUB-ul) and “entendre” as if it’s French (ahn-TAN-dr).

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