Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Entendre" at the singles bar

An entendre that wasn't doubled caught my eye in this NYT story on search optimization last Sunday (yes, I've been neglecting my duties here). David Carr wrote about headlines like "Obama Rejects Rush Limbaugh Golf Match: Rush ‘Can Play With Himself'" that

It’s digital nirvana: two highly searched proper nouns followed by a smutty entendre, a headline that both the red and the blue may be compelled to click, and the readers of the site can have a laugh while the headline delivers great visibility out on the Web.

"A smutty entendre"? I had never seen entendre used this way, as shorthand for double entendre, but if chauvinism can stand in for male chauvinism and graphic for pornographic, there's no reason entendre -- which English uses only in double entendre, a phrase with two senses, one usually risque -- couldn't take the same path.

But it hasn't gone more than one baby step along the route, a web search suggests. "An entendre"  appears 15 times in Nexis newspapers, with citations back to 1988, if we throw out the uses (another 20 or so) that are explicit plays on double entendre -- "barman, give me an entendre and make it a double," and so forth.

Some of these entendres seem to be plain misuse: The idea that Chicago had 400 famous people "was an entendre, a joke, a tongue in cheek," said a founder of a social network there. A student music reviewer used the word to mean simply a non-dirty pun: "Musicaphile ...[is] etymologically sound ('sound' is an entendre though granted not a very funny one)."

But those who employ the naked entendre generally intend it as Carr did, as a short form of double entendre. From the US: "[Mae West] could deliver an entendre just perfectly." From Australia: Dame Edna "adroitly pivots on an entendre." And from England: "The 'Confessions' movies were 'Carry On' films minus an entendre."

Google News takes the solo entendre back to 1969 -- "[she] can put more into an entendre than an old vaudeville comic" -- but again, examples are sparse. Even Google-wide, there are only 360 uses (if the words double and triple are blocked). Still, most of those are recent and youthful, and if the usage does spread, that's where we'll see it first.

8 comments:

Steve Hall said...

It strikes me that the use of "entendre" by itself is out of ignorance, and it disturbs me that such ignorance is allowed to eventually prevail. I'm not a prescriptivist by any means, but I think there are some things that shouldn't be bastardized.

John Cowan said...

Huh. The facts are the facts, of course, but to me entendre would mean, if it meant anything at all, something like 'significance of an expression'. Triple entendre, after all, clearly means 'expression with three meanings'. like the Rush album Moving Pictures, whose back cover (per Wikipedia) "showed a film crew shooting a crowd being moved by movers moving moving pictures".

empty said...

savant

Jan said...

Empty, you mean "savant" as in "idiot savant"? But savant came first ... please explain.

empty said...

All I meant to do was to point out a somewhat parallel example (which pushes my peeve buttons): just as people use 'entendre' to mean 'double entendre', they use 'savant' to mean 'idiot savant'.

Jan said...

Thanks for the clarification -- I'm not sure I've heard "savant" to mean "idiot savant," but I believe you -- I just need to get out more.

empty said...

I run into "savant" much more often than "idiot savant", and I practically never run into "savant" in the old sense of scholar.

John Cowan said...

I think the shift from "idiot savant" to "savant" reflects two things: the desire not to use the stigmatized term "idiot", and the fact that savants aren't necessarily mentally retarded.