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An innuendo is a literary device used by a speaker when he wants to suggest something about a person or thing, but when for whatever reason, he may not wish to explicitly state what is on his mind. The most common form of innuendo is, of course, sexual innuendo. For example, it may be socially inappropriate to speak plainly about a given person's erotic life. So, innuendo would be used to say something without saying it. 


Innuendo is an insulting or disparaging remark made through suggestion or hint that concerns a person's social standing or reputation. Innuendo is indirect and subtle observation about a thing or a person which is generally critical, disparaging, salacious, or derogatory. In its weakest form, innuendo is satire, and in its strongest form outright criticism. Using the strongest form while writing your research paper, can help argue a point in a persuasive piece. There are many different types of innuendo, depending on the situation it is used in, including sexual innuendo used to criticize or imply a negative image of a person's reputation; natural innuendo; everyday innuendo; innocent innuendo; and accidental innuendo, which may better be described as putting one's foot in one's mouth.


Writers can use innuendo in titles, names, place names or descriptions of a setting or situation in order to add hidden or slightly obscured meanings that readers may or may not notice right away.

The use of innuendo and satire in Charles Dickens’ book Hard Times and many of his other works shines through in characters’ names. Some examples are a school teacher named Mr. Choakumchild; a union leader named Slackbridge; A Christmas Carol’s Ebenezer Scrooge; and Oliver Twist’s the Artful Dodger.

Speaking of Oliver Twist, Dickens’ writing was alive with innuendo in this book, as well. 

“Miss Betsy, who opportunely arrived to throw water over her friend…perform other feminine offices for the promotion of her recovery…”

The innuendo here is that Miss Betsy was performing sexual favors for Mr. Bates on a regular schedule.

Shakespeare and other poets also used innuendo to convey sexual imagery that might be deemed inappropriate if put directly. For example:

“Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry

Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.” – William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis

How to use innuendos

Innuendo is very common in works of art, and also in song lyrics.  Music has been a way to release bottled up sexual and political tension since time immemorial. The following examples demonstrate that innuendo is now a major part of most song lyrics today.

“Really love your peaches, wanna shake your trees/Lovey-dovey, dovey-dovey all the time/Oo-wee baby I’ll sure show you a good time” - “The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band

“Baby do you dare to do this?/Cause I’m coming at you like a dark horse/ Are you ready for, ready for/A perfect storm, perfect storm/Cause once you’re mine, once you’re mine/There’s no going back/” – “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry

“Good girls gone bad, the city’s filled with them/Mommy took a bus trip, now she got her bust out/Everybody ride her, just like a bus route/ Hail Mary to the city, you’re a virgin and Jesus can’t save you/Life starts when the church end/Came here for school, graduated to the high life, ball players, rap stars, addicted to the limelight/MDMA got you feelin’ like a champion/The city never sleeps but it slip you an Ambien/” – “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z.

There are also many famous quotes that contain innuendo, such as the following:

“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!” – Mae West

“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” – Mae West

“She was pleased to have him come and never sorry to see him go.” – Dorothy Parker

“Of course, you’d warm up faster if you took your clothes off.” –Stephanie Meyer

“Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.” –George Bernard Shaw

An innuendo is in the same family as an analogy, idiom, metaphor, or a simile, all being used to convey an alternative meaning to the words being used. Next time you write an essay, try to include an innuendo to make an indirect reference in the form of a remark or question.

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