If you’re looking for a double entendre, Mr Slang is just the man to give you one…

Those who, gazing at last week’s cab-referrent illustration, could tear their eyes from what Joyce, a connoisseur of such things, would have termed Judy Geeson’s ‘frillies’, would have noticed the strapline: ‘He gets more than his fare share.’ This, of course, is a pun. It is also a double entendre, the difference being sometimes hard to discern but the definers of the latter tend to advert to the term ‘racy’. I shall leave such fine-tuning to those swifter than I, and, while accepting the inevitable overlaps, concentrate on what rhetoric terms paronomasia (Greek ‘a play on words’) and the Nobel laureate Henri Bergson set down as a sentence or utterance in which ‘two different sets of ideas are expressed, and we are confronted with only one series of words.’

Or, as Shakespeare has it in Henry V:  ‘Pistol’s cock is up and flashing fire will follow,’ or Kenneth Williams, channeling Talbot Rothwell in Carry on Cleo: ‘Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me.’[1]

Slang, a Carry On movie (but perhaps not quite a Shakespeare) scripted from the entirety of the national language, is of course smitten with puns. The lists offer some 628, plus another 754 where I have opted for ‘a play on’, typically bosom friend, for a louse.  Being a man-made lexis, and in the way of men seeing the world through the priorities of the little head rather than of the large one, such usage may often veer towards the double entendre. There is little I can do.

Many of the puns refer to sex. We have abandoned habits, which playing on their morality and their dress, refers to the up-market courtesans who frequented Rotten Row in London’s Hyde Park. We have the airplane blonde, who may appear to sport golden tresses, but on closer inspection reveals her ‘black box’.  We have the agreeable ruts of life, the vagina, where rut encompasses bestial intercourse and one of the many variations on ‘slit’ that have been attached to the fermale genitals. We have the article of virtue, playing on the French objet de vertu, a curio or an antique, and which betokens a virgin. And that, as will be noticed, is but a sample of the letter A. If we refine things down, say to ‘brothel,’ we find finishing academy and seminary, clap-trap, cunny-warren (coney being both vagina and rabbit, with all that that implies), and so on. There are also a good number of internal slang-on-slang puns. Bobtail, properly a cropped horse, which can mean a eunuch or at least an impotent man, has had his ‘tail’ cut off, while the homonymous use as prostitute refers to one who, still in horse country, both sports her own variety of ‘tail’ and in addition is ‘good for a ride’.

It is hard,[2] and how can we overlook the adventures of the solicitor-general in the low countries, but lets us at least try to abandon the narrow delights of standing room for one[3], of naval engagements and indeed of two-handed put, both a card-game and a play on French putain, a whore.[4]

Barking dogs, for instance, are painful feet, a foot being one of the dog’s many roles in slang, a blunderbuss, usually a weapon, was once any ill-handling vehicle, a botanical excursion transportation to New South Wales, i.e. ‘Botany Bay, a Bryant and May, for the matches, was a ‘light’ ale, while modern Scotland offers a low-flying birdie, a shot of Old Grouse whisky. A chamber of commerce, on US campuses around 1905, was a lavatory: therein one ‘does one’s business’.  Captain Grose, in 1785, offers go to the diet of worms, to die, the anodyne necklace, the hangman’s noose which plays on a necklace of herbs which being anodyne ‘cures one’s pain’; hanging could also be the hearty choke with caper sauce, further extended as a vegetable breakfast. Still with Grose there are backgammon player, a sodomite, one of many such that play on ‘back’ ( though modern equivalents have opted, scatalogically, for ‘chocolate’), the king of Spain’s trumpeter, a.k.a. ‘Don Key’, manoeuvre the apostles, playing on ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’, master of the mint, a gardener, a catching harvest, combining the standard term for unpredictable, unsettled weather with the possibility that the highwayman may get ‘caught’, is an unpropitious moment for a hold-up,  and custom house goods, a vagina ‘because fairly entered’;  the revenue also gives Earl Rochester’s customs house, again the vagina ‘wherein Adam made the first entry’ and as cited in Hotten, the customs house officer, a laxative, which ‘permits goods to pass through.’

Drinking, as is slang’s way, plays its part. A Geneva print is gin, which one ‘reads’; to have been at Geneva is to be drunk. The term plays on genever, the Dutch gin that plagued the 18th century, although a Dutch girl is, no prizes here, a lesbian. The grapes of wrath has been wine, and Australia’s shout, to buy someone a drink gives shout oneself hoarse, to buy for the whole bar. Jon Bee adds put this reckoning up to the Dover wagoner, to put a drink on the slate, and which turns out to be a laborious reference to the word ‘owing’ and to the contemporary Dover wagoner, one ‘Owen’.

On it goes. Let us depart then, with a sample from that unrivalled generator of the old Jack Lang, Australia. The term Buckley’s, which means ‘no chance’. It is possible that this refers to one William Buckley (1780–1856), an escaped convict who spent 32 years living with Aborigines in South Victoria. It is, however, far more likely that we have, gratifyingly, another pun, on the name of defunct firm of Buckley and Nunn. You got two chances, mate: Buckley’s and none. Boom bloody boom!


[1] Carry On scripts of course provide the literal thesaurus (Greek, ‘treasure-house’)  of such material. To such an extent that reading an appreciative, if academic and thus dour, assessment, and encountering the phrase ‘In his first film, Jim Dale has a small part’ I began sniggering.

[2] say no more…

[3] tight trousers, similarly constricted, are like Edgware Road, ‘because that’s got no ballroom either’.

[4] a word best found in the evocative, if unalluring French oath putain de merde!

image ©Gabriel Green
You can buy Green’s Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon’s more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.
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Jonathon 'Mr Slang' Green is the world's leading lexicographer of English slang. You can buy Green's Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon's more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.

2 thoughts on “Punditry

  1. wormstir@gmail.com'
    May 16, 2013 at 13:43

    so does this mean Coney Island in New York is named because of rabbits then?

  2. lskxcvchj@gmail.com'
    May 31, 2013 at 13:29

    Ciao! Vorrei solo dire un grazie enorme per le informazioni che avete condiviso in questo blog! Di sicuro’ diverro’ un vostro fa accanito!

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