Examples of Innuendo in Literature

Definition of Innuendo

Innuendo is a literary terms, which is used for an indirect or subtle sexual, offensive or derogatory implication in expression. It is usually communicated through certain words, phrases and images that suggest more than what is directly expressed. The meaning relies heavily on context and interpretation.

In literature, innuendo is often used as a rhetorical device to hint at something without directly stating it. It offers authors to make provocative suggestions and insert risqué undertones maintaining some deniability. Skilled writers use innuendo to add layers of meaning to their work.

Importance of Innuendo in Literature

Innuendo serves several important purposes in literature:

  • It adds depth and realism to characters by revealing private desires, fears, prejudices through oblique dialogue that mimics real life conversations.
  • Builds tension and intrigue in the narrative by forcing readers to read between the lines. This activates the reader’s imagination.
  • Provides authors with artistic freedom to address provocative themes under the radar of censorship laws or social scrutiny.
  • It draws nuanced social commentary on gender, class, race relations by implying the unspoken rules, norms and attitudes that govern societies.
  • It crafts multi-dimensional plots and relationships between characters based on unverbalized emotions, histories and motivations.
  • Allows comedy or satire to be inserted at a subtle level through ironic undertones and clever wit.

The use of innuendo demonstrates a writer’s skill with language and communication. Masterful innuendo is powerful not for what is said but for what is implied.

Examples of Innuendo in Literature


“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

“Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!” cried Elizabeth. “That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintances. I dearly love a laugh.”

“A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”

In the dialogue between Elizabeth and her father, Austen uses innuendo and wordplay to hint at Mr. Darcy’s admiration for Elizabeth. When Mr. Bennet jokingly states they live to laugh at their neighbors, Elizabeth defends Darcy saying he is “not to be laughed at.” Her choice of words is ironic because she does find Darcy’s stiffness laughable. Mr. Bennet picks up on the irony by punning on “uncommon” – he knows Darcy is an uncommon suitor that Elizabeth seems to favor despite claiming she “dearly loves a laugh.”

The sexual tension is furthered when Elizabeth states Darcy’s appeal to her is an “uncommon advantage” she hopes will continue. Though disguised as a quip, this reveals her budding attraction to Darcy. Mr. Bennet toys with this idea by outlining all a woman must possess for a man like Darcy. His exaggerated list suggests Elizabeth has bewitched Darcy with her feminine charms and he has taken quite a liking to her. The lighthearted banter voiced through innuendo and double meaning subtly discloses the romantic chemistry between Darcy and Elizabeth.

Austen eloquently uses innuendo to flesh out the relationship dynamics without making anything too explicit. The implications add spice and wit to the dialogue while showcasing Elizabeth and her father’s clever verbal sparring over her suitor Darcy.


“1984” by George Orwell

“In the old days…It was not actually forbidden. There was no law in those days.”
He paused, and they were both longing back to the ancient time, when every thought and act was not subject to State censorship. “It was not actually forbidden? The Party said it was.”
“You’re forgetting that I’m eleven years older than you. Believe me, till they finally banned it… it was Heaven.”

This conversation between Winston and the old man hints at a sexual encounter that would have been considered illicit by the totalitarian Party. When the old man says “in the old days” it wasn’t “actually forbidden,” he is referring to a time before the Party cracked down on unapproved relationships. His longing for that earlier time suggests it involved something pleasurable, likely of a sexual nature.

Winston picks up on this coded meaning and he too thinks back to a time without as much “State censorship.” The euphemistic language continues when the man says “it was Heaven,” implying it was an intensely enjoyable activity that has since been banned. Through vague yet evocative language, the writer creates an innuendo-laced exchange alluding to non-marital, unregulated intimacy from decades past – a grave transgression in the Party’s eyes.


“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tom Buchanan hints at Gatsby’s shady past:

“An Oxford man!” He was incredulous. “Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.”
“Nevertheless he’s an Oxford man.”
“Oxford, New Mexico,” snorted Tom contemptuously, “or something like that.”

The author uses innuendo to hint at skepticism regarding Gatsby’s claims of being an Oxford man. When it is mentioned that Gatsby went to Oxford, the arrogant Tom reacts incredulously exclaiming “Like hell he is!” This vulgar outburst subtly implies Tom believes Gatsby is lying about his educational background.

Tom then mocks Gatsby’s fashion sense scoffing that an Oxford man would never wear a pink suit. The mocking insinuation reveals Tom’s class prejudice – he believes such gaudy clothing exposes Gatsby as nouveau riche rather than an elite Oxford alum. Though the other character insists Gatsby is telling the truth, Tom pointedly rebuts that he must have attended “Oxford, New Mexico” instead – a fictional place that satirically mirrors Gatsby’s supposed fabricated credentials.

Through simple yet scornful dialogue, Fitzgerald uses innuendo to unravel Gatsby’s mysterious background, hinting he is not who he claims to be. Tom’s aristocratic disdain toward the garish pink suit and fictional “Oxford, New Mexico” speaks volumes without Directly stating Gatsby lied about attending the prestigious Oxford University. The implications cleverly puncture holes in Gatsby’s credibility and cloak of self-invention.


“Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert

Emma coyly tries to proposition Rodolphe for an affair:

“Men! There are times when one feels sorry not to be God!”
“Why?” asked Rodolphe.
“So as to make you all behave better than you do.”

The author uses innuendo to subtly critique male behavior through the character’s lament about not being God. The first line contains frustration with actions of men as well as a desire for the power to influence and control their behavior for the better.

The use of the word “Why?” makes the speaker to be able to make men behave better. This shows that the speaker thinks that men should act more righteously. The author skillfully employs innuendo to convey societal commentary. It offers a critical perspective on male conduct without overtly stating it. The dialogue subtly exposes a dissatisfaction with the behavior of men. It invites contemplation on the flaws and failings of the male characters. This use of innuendo provides a nuanced exploration of social and moral themes within the narrative.


“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte

Rochester banters with Jane using layered metaphors:

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup?”

The use of innuendo is evident in the aforesaid excerpt. The writer vehemently questions whether she is perceived as an emotionless being, an “automaton” or a “machine without feelings.” The author employs the metaphorical references. She presents a poignant and emotional expression of the deprivation and injustice she feels. The innuendo conveys a profound sense of hurt and deprivation. It suggests that her basic needs and emotional sustenance are being callously denied or taken away. The use of innuendo in this dialogue effectively conveys Jane’s intense emotions and the profound impact of the oppression she experiences, which allows the reader to empathize with her struggles and deprivation.


“Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

Septimus muses on his friend Evan’s death in wartime:

“When Evans was killed, just before the Armistice, in Italy, Septimus, far from showing any emotion or recognising that here was the end of a friendship, congratulated himself upon feeling very little and very reasonably. The War had taught him. It was sublime.”

Woolf subtly conveys Septimus’ repressed homosexuality and grief over Evan’s death through detached innuendo that coldly hints at love and loss rather than directly expressing it. This underscores Septimus’ emotional turmoil.

Read also: Literary Devices That Start With ‘I’

Innuendo proves to be a powerful indirect mode of communication in literature. When expertly employed, it can multiply meanings, deepen characterizations, build tension and provide clever commentary through subtle implications. The ambiguity inherent in innuendo engages readers in an interpretive game of piecing together truths left unsaid.

Examples of Innuendo in Literature
Examples of Innuendo in Literature

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