It was the spring of 2006. I had recently relocated to Los Angeles, and I was in my car running some errands when this white truck passed me on my left and then quickly pulled into my lane in front of me and there it was in broad daylight and big blue letters: CULVER CITY MEAT CO. “You may beat our prices, but you can’t beat our meat.” I so wanted to take a picture, but the traffic started to move so I thought, okay, I’ll get beside it and hopefully there will be a red light and I will take my picture then. Alas, the side of the truck was truncated, as you can see above. But as you can also see from the second photo, Culver City Meat is not the only one to use the phrase! It is a bold statement, so I jotted down the phone numbers, vowing to look them up to see if they did indeed have the “best” meat in town, because who doesn’t love a good steak?
Had you going, didn’t I? Admit it, your mind went exactly where mine did, and it sure as hell was not about the quality of the product! But why? Why do our minds almost automatically see that “other” meaning in a phrase, or statement, or as in the case, a bit of branded advertising? Worse yet: You don’t “get it” and your friends have to explain it to you, which only gives them a second reason to fall to the floor laughing hysterically, while you look for somewhere to hide…or a cliff! (For those of you who still don’t get it, I sincerely apologize and hope that you will not think less of me…I also have some land for sale in…). Here’s another scenario for you, perhaps not quite as humorous. You’re a teacher in Culver City walking to a nearby park for some fun and games, and this truck slowly drives past you and your class of third graders. You summon up all your energy to stifle your initial reaction, only to hear “dirty” Ernie (come on, every third grade class has one, just insert your dirty Ernie joke here!) burst out laughing and you lose it, right there in front of your whole class. Before you can compose yourself, little Roberta and Tommy are tugging on your sleeve asking: “Miss Robinson, what’s so funny?” Although I have never taught that age group, I have been a teacher and I honestly have no idea how I would handle that situation, nor how I would answer the question, without lying mercilessly. Where’s that cliff?
And who do we have to thank for these wonderful sayings that can be taken two ways? Why, the French of course! The glorious double entendre. The word entendre means “to hear, NOT ‘intent.’” In other words, it means ‘double hearing,’ or to put it another way, hearing two possible meanings for one phrase. The “second” meaning is often sexual in nature so, as one can imagine from the example above, that second interpretation can have some, shall I say, unintended consequences! There are occasions when the second meaning is not sexual. For example, in the movie “Silence of the Lambs” when Hannibal Lecter says: “I do wish we could chat longer, but…I’m having an old friend for dinner. Bye.” Here, the word “having” is the subject of the double entendre. There are other examples to be sure, but so far, we have sexual connotations and cannibalism, so I think I should quit while I’m ahead (and don’t you dare try and read anything into that)! Many of you, are I am sure, familiar with the term “Freudian slip,” which is an unintended, usually sexual gaffe; in other words, a double entendre only with a fancy label making it sound more academic and less intentional…yeah, right. Some classic, everyday ones: You see someone sweating bullets and you say: “You look hot!” You see someone carrying a very large box and you blurt out: “Wow, you got a huge package.” Or you’re sitting in church next to your mother and you say this about the church organist: Why is Mr. Richardson touching his organ so much?” And while we are on the subject of churches, there are numerous examples of church signs beckoning the faithful with slogans and bon mots that are double entendre gold:
That last one a bit too much. Okay, fair enough. Here’s a non-sexual one:
Can I get an amen for that one? One could make the argument for a quadruple entendre in this case! Are these examples of sophomoric, sexist, low-brow humor, crass? Absolutely, because all of these qualities need to be front and center to make them into a double entendre! You laugh and immediately feel guilty for laughing as you chastise yourself for being so juvenile…but you can’t stop laughing! The examples above come under the category of the “accidental’ double entendre, which can often be seen in newspaper headlines such as: “Panda mating fails; Veterinarian takes over;” “Miners refuse to work after death;” or, “Children make nutritious snacks.” Another twist on the double entendre, is known as a “paraprosdokian,” which is a sentence that has a surprise or unexpected ending. In Greek the word means “against expectations;” you are expecting something, and you get something else. These are often the fodder for comedians, especially one-liners, the most famous example being Henny Youngman’s “Take my wife ——– Please,” with the just-long-enough pause before the punchline to drive it home. “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it!” (Groucho Marx). “He taught me housekeeping; when I divorce, I keep the house” (Zsa Zsa Gabor). “When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them” (Rodney Dangerfield). “Half of all marriages end in divorce – then there are the really unhappy ones” (Joan Rivers). The other thing that all of these one-liners have in common other than falling under the rubric of their Greek name, is that they all come from the comedians of a very different era, which may or may not be significant, however I think it is!
Politicians have also contributed to the pool with their wit and clever sayings. For example: Ronald Reagan uttered the following: “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a President by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.” “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities” (Winston Churchill). “People say I’m indecisive – but I don’t know about that” (George H.W. Bush).
As you can see, there is really no end to the possibilities of being misunderstood or have what you say mean something entirely different, dependent of course on who is “hearing” what’s being said, and what it is they are “hearing.” And we haven’t even broached the topic of puns, which are, in many ways, the same thing as a double entendre. But you’ve probably had enough for today, so I’ll spare you…You’re welcome.
Okay, just one! “Hipsters always burn their tongues because they drink their coffee before it’s cool!” Oh, I almost forgot. The answer to my question as to why our minds go there: because they can!
Los Angeles 2023
4 thoughts on “Wait…What?”
Loved these. Mostly very old, but tried-and-true, and never fail to make me laugh. And anyone who says their mind doesn’t go there is either lying or they’re losing it!
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Thanks. They are old, but then so are we! Exactly.
A very clever post!
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