July 18, 2023
7 min read
Conversations can be awkward, especially if you’re talking about a sensitive or taboo subject. That’s where innuendos come in.
Even if you haven’t used one yourself, you’ve probably heard them on TV, in film, and in books. We’ll detail everything you need to know about innuendos, including what they are, why they’re used, and how you can use them in everyday speech.
An innuendo is a suggestive hint or remark made to insinuate something. The word stems from the Latin “innuere,” which roughly translates to mean nodding or beckoning to.
It was introduced in medieval legal documents and evolved to refer to any “indirect suggestions.” It wasn’t until later on that the umbrella of innuendos expanded to include more disrespectful, derogatory comments.
The word “innuendo” is pronounced like: “in-yoo-en-dow,” with “dow” rhyming with “doe.”
There’s some confusion concerning the difference between the words “innuendo” and “euphemism,” most likely because the difference is slight. Whereas an innuendo refers to a hint about someone or something that could be seen as derogatory, a euphemism is a term used in place of a more offensive or crude word.
The confusion between the words “innuendo” and “insinuation” is understandable. Still, these two words are essentially synonyms and are usually used synonymously.
Although there’s been some debate in the past as to whether or not the intention of these words is the same, the general consensus is that it’s safe to use them interchangeably.
There are a few synonyms that can help shed a little more light about this word and what it means.
Some of the most common innuendo synonyms you may hear include:
Although innuendos can be extremely versatile, they usually fit into one of two categories: verbal or nonverbal.
A verbal innuendo is just what it sounds like. This type relies on verbal communication and is pretty commonly used, especially when flirting or using sarcasm.
Examples of verbal innuendos can be things like:
On the other hand, a nonverbal innuendo relies on mainly nonverbal cues only to get the message across. You can use your body language to communicate something without even opening your mouth. This can include:
The only nonverbal innuendo that does use a sort of verbal cue could be changes in vocal tone. Even though a change in tone isn’t necessarily “verbal,” this type is very common in conversation.
However, for nonverbal innuendos, societal, cultural, or social context is needed to make sure you get the message across. That’s because some gestures can have different meanings depending on the cultural significance or interpretation. Even something as “simple” as a thumbs up (which is an affirmative sign in many countries) can be misconstrued. In West Asian countries — namely Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran — this thumbs up sign is considered rude and offensive.
There are also subtypes. As mentioned above, legal innuendos are one subtype. For example, these can be used to sidestep any libel or defamation accusations.
The most popular subtype is probably the “sexual innuendo.” It uses secondary descriptions or phrases to hint at sex or sexual matters. These are very common in films, especially comedies. It’s also just a less taboo way to discuss sex (which is often considered taboo for conversation) in conversation with someone.
These are often used in politics, too. Sometimes, a politician will voice their true opinions or criticisms under the veil of an innuendo so as not to be too “obvious” with the matters they support or disagree with.
Innuendos can have slightly different purposes depending on what the context is. For example, in literature, authors often use this rhetorical device to entertain the audience.
In speech, they can come off as passive aggressive. Many people recognize that this device is usually used to insult or attack a person’s character. However, this isn’t inherently true and they’re used pretty often.
If your goal is to be indirect however, innuendos are perfect. Let’s take a deeper look into when we might use them, especially in conversation.
Using these in speech can be very helpful. There are two main ways you might want to use innuendos in speech: to mention “sensitive” information or to be witty or humorous.
If you’re trying to convey sensitive information without making it totally obvious, they can come in handy. Sometimes, talking about something considered “sensitive” information can make people uncomfortable. To avoid this, innuendos can provide a discretionary cover.
On the other hand, this type of rhetorical device can give you an air of wit and humor. Context is especially important here given that the listener needs to be clued into that context conversation to understand said wit and humor.
For this type, there’s more often than not some type of juxtaposition of two concepts. Here’s some quick examples:
If you’d like to practice using innuendos so as to more confidently use them in everyday speech, taking advantage of an AI speech coach can be a great option. If you happen to be learning English as a second language, this is an especially helpful way to practice.
When you’re in the middle of a conversation, it can be difficult to use one correctly the first time, especially if you haven’t used them before. If that sounds like you, you can use AI speech coach Yoodli to practice.
You can upload an existing video or record yourself practicing innuendos in impromptu speech to get instant analytics and a transcript of what was said.
This way, you can review exactly what you said, how you said it, and identify the context around the innuendo to ensure it was used appropriately.
Although it might seem like a moot point, practicing speaking out loud and using innuendos can help improve your confidence and accuracy in using these words and phrases.
In general, innuendos are common. To better understand the wide-ranging variety and uses for this rhetorical device, check out these examples in film and television and literature.
In film and television, most innuendos are sexual in nature. The 2000s film “Shrek” is chock-full of them.
Not all of the examples in film and television are on purpose, though. Some are actually accidental. In the film “Captain America,” the characters mention fondue and protagonist Steve Rogers assumes the other two characters are talking about an intimate relationship instead of fondue.
Howard Stark, one of the characters in the conversation, replies: “Fondue is just cheese and bread, my friend.”
You can check out the film clip below.
Various types of literature rely on these too, and you can find them in everything from screenplays to novels to poetry. Shakespeare, for one, is famous for purposely including raunchy innuendos.
However, there are also accidental innuendos in literature. Take “Jane Eyre,” for example. Because it was written in the mid-1800s, some of the language can seem suggestive even though it’s not.
One such example is the excerpt:
“The clock struck eight strokes. It aroused him; he uncrossed his legs, sat erect, turned to me.”
Of course, there’s nothing sexual about the sitting up, uncrossing your legs, and turning to speak to someone. However, it exists as an accidental suggestion nonetheless.
Innuendos can be a very helpful tool for everyday conversation, especially if you broach topics that might be sensitive or disrespectful. It’s a handy way to talk about a subject that could be uncomfortable in a lighthearted, indirect way.
To most successfully use innuendos in speech, try practicing a few. You can even take advantage of an in-depth analysis from Yoodli to best improve how and when you use them.
Getting better at speaking is getting easier. Record or upload a speech and let our AI Speech Coach analyze your speaking and give you feedback.