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"Mind you, the Elizabethans had so many words for the female genitals that it is quite hard to speak a sentence of modern English without inadvertently mentioning at least three of them."
Terry Pratchett, in

The inverse trope to Have a Gay Old Time. Due to changes in vocabulary over time, something that originally was supposed to be raunchy and Double Entendre-laden can often sound perfectly straightforward—or sometimes incomprehensible—to modern ears.

Shakespeare is probably the most common exemplar of this trope, both because he wrote a long time ago and because he had a filthy streak wider than the Queen's farthingale (at least by the standards of the time). There was also no such thing as a "sensitive" listener who could not stand to hear a dirty joke in his day (except the Puritans, but they considered theatre itself to be sinful). The Queen's (and later King's) censors cared more about sedition and blasphemy than sexual or scatological humor. This is how the awful puns in Henry V were allowed to be used while seemingly mild oaths like "Gadzooks" (God's hooks, or the nails that held Jesus to the cross) were banned.

Nunnery meant a convent for nuns but was also used as an Sexual Euphemism for brothel. note  Now you know. For situations about women actually entering a convent, see Taking the Veil and/or Locked Away in a Monastery. The inverse is Have a Gay Old Time, which are words that were originally not euphemistic. Subtrope of Sexual Euphemism, which concerns currently used euphemisms for sex.


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Shakespeare's plays are absolutely chock-full of puns, references, double-meanings, and innuendos that are completely lost on modern audiences due to how the English language and society have evolved. One really has to read annotated versions to get everything that Shakespeare intended.

  • "Die" was a common English euphemism for "orgasm" well into the 18th century, probably stemming from the French euphemism la petite mort, "the little death."
    • In King Lear Edmund's line "Yours in the ranks of death!" is actually a Elizabethan era euphemism or pun for an orgasm or sex in general.
    • In Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick tells Beatrice he "will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy sight."
    • Juliet's impassioned speech to her mother in Romeo and Juliet where she uses many double meanings that can be taken to mean she hates Romeo (the way her mother takes it) but could also be taken to mean she's in love with him. In one part, Juliet states that her dearest desire is to "behold Romeo dead." She gives the speech after they're married. What do you think Juliet's really saying she wants in that speech?
  • In Shakespeare's time, "thing" was a euphemism for a penis, and "nothing" or "no-thing" was also a euphemism for a vagina. Many plays make use of this term, often to pun or joke.
    • Shakespeare used the phrase "too much of a good thing" as a Double Entendre in As You Like It. The original context was as follows:
    Rosalind: Are you not good?
    Orlando: I hope so.
    Rosalind: Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?
    • Much Ado About Nothing: The title has three different yet equally appropriate meanings, as the main conflict revolves around the false rumor that Hero has lost her virginity to another man while engaged to Claudio. Therefore it is "Much Ado about Nothing" as in "mountains out of molehills," "Much Ado about Noting" as it's concerned with the views the characters have of each others' moral fiber (how they "note" each other), and "Much Ado about" a slang term for a lady's naughty parts (because that's what she has between her legs: nothing). Sadly, the second two meanings have been lost to linguistic drift, and the first interpretation is all they are aware of.
    • "Nothing" also appears in Hamlet:
      Hamlet: That's a fair thought to lie between a maid's legs.
      Ophelia: What is, my lord?
      Hamlet: Nothing.
    • Mercutio and his "queen Mab" monologue in Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo interrupts mid-sentence:
    • Sonnet 20 uses the conceit of a man being as pretty as a woman, and plays with this euphemism:
      And for a woman wert thou first created,
      Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
      And by addition me of thee defeated,
      By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
  • "Wit" was a slang term for "penis" at the time and appears in this fashion a few times:
    • Much Ado About Nothing:
      • This one:
        Don Pedro: I said that thou hadst a great wit. Yay, said she, a great gross one. Nay, say I, a fine wit. Yay, said she, a fine little one. Nay, said I, a good wit. Just, said she, it hurts nobody.
      • There's also this exchange:
        Claudio: Wilt thou use thy wit?
        Benedick: It is in my scabbard. Shall I draw it? [Here referring to wit as a slang term for fencing skill]
        Don Pedro, that filthy man: Dost thou wear thy wit by thy side?
    • Romeo and Juliet: There is a pretty hilarious scene where Romeo and Mercutio match wits leading to gems such as "O here's a wit of cheveril, that stretches from an inch to an ell broad!"
  • Similarly, whenever the word "quaint" occurs in William Shakespeare or Chaucer… it means the same as "nothing", or "wit", or "ring." Terry Pratchett was right.
  • The Taming of the Shrew:
    Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp; i' faith, you are too angry.
    Katherina: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
    Petruchio: My remedy is then, to pluck it out.
    Katherina: Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
    Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.
    Katherina: In his tongue.
    Petruchio: Whose tongue?
    Katherina: Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.
    Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail?
    • That's even worse than is implied so far! Kissing ass has a certain set of meanings in the modern era, but in those days it was the sign of a witch or warlock's devotion to and service to the Devil. In other words, Petruchio was demonizing her.
    • Yet another meaning to it: "Tail" was also an euphemism for vagina (yes, apparently the term is really that old). It's a joke about cunnilingus!
    • Almost every argument Kate and Petruchio have would fit this. There's also this:
      Katherina: Asses were made to bear, and so will you.
      Petruchio: Women were made to bear, and so will you!
      • This would be referring to women having ("bearing") children, and being expected to hold ("bear") her husband's weight during sex.
  • The title quote—at the time Hamlet was written, "nunnery" was a euphemism for "brothel".
    • And another one, from Hamlet's conversation with Polonius—in the same conversation in which he makes reference to Jephthah, he calls Polonius a "fishmonger"—a euphemism for a "pimp", referring to a similarity in scent between fish and female genitalia. Which is a clue that Hamlet already suspects Polonius of using his own daughter to get to Hamlet.
  • Several of Shakespeare's sonnets make extensive use of the word "will" which, aside from conveniently being the poet's name, meant both "penis" and "sexual appetite."
  • Similarly, any Shakespearean reference to "stones" is likely to be an anatomical Double Entendre.
    • An interesting question arises: Has this usage returned (in the 19th century through today) or did it always remain current? This usage also appears in the King James Bible, so at least the usage has generally been available, if not actually used, the whole time.
  • According to one annotated copy of Twelfth Night, the following conversation is actually about having sex with prostitutes:
    Sir Andrew: I'll stay a month longer. I am a fellow o' the strangest mind i' the world; I delight in masques and revels sometimes altogether.
    Sir Toby: Art thou good at these kickshawses, knight?
    Sir Andrew: As any man in Illyria, whatsoever he be, under the degree of my betters; and yet I will not compare with an old man.
    Sir Toby: What is thy excellence in a galliard, knight?
    Sir Andrew: Faith, I can cut a caper.
    Sir Toby: And I can cut the mutton to't.
    Sir Andrew: And I think I have the back-trick simply as strong as any man in Illyria.
    • More glaringly, when Malvolio reads the fake letter supposedly from Olivia, he notes her handwriting by her "C"s, her "U"s, and her "T"s, from which she makes her great "P"s. Need it be mentioned that "cut" was old-timey slang for a woman's private parts?
      Sir Andrew: Her "C"s, her "U"s, aNd her "T"s? Why that?
  • The awful puns in Henry V referred to above include the following:
    Katherine:...Coment appelle vous les pied et de roba?
    Alice: Le Foot, Madame, et le Count.
    Katherine: Le Foot, et le Count! O Seignieur Dieu, il sont le mots de son mauvais corruptible, grosse, et impudique, et non pour le dames de honeur d'user: je ne voudray pronouncer ce mots devant le seigneurs de France, pour toute le monde! Fo! Le Foot et le Count!
    • Or in translation from Shakespeare's mangled Elizabethan French:
      Katherine: ... How do you say, le pied and la robe?
      Alice: The Foot, my lady, and the Gown.
      Katherine: The Foot and the Gown! O Lord God, these are words of a wicked, corruptible, gross, and immodest sound, and not for ladies of honour to use! I should not want to pronounce these words before the lords of France for all the world! Fie! The Foot and the Gown!
    • The wordplay is on the French words foutre ("fuck" or "jizz") and con ("cunt").
  • Again in Romeo and Juliet, we have the opening scene where a Capulet man expresses his desire to fight the Montagues and "cut off the heads" of their maids—"maidenhead" being an old term for a woman's hymen/virginity. This is lampshaded by a second man asking, "The heads of the maids, or their maidenheads?" to which the first replies, "Ah, 'tis all one."
    • Similarly, in the same scene, he mentions he would "take to the wall any Man or Maid of Montague". "Take to the wall" is a reference to the fact in fancy Italian cities of the time (such as Verona) families would have their toilets on the second floor of their homes, set up in such a way that their contents would dump down and drain into a trench in the center of the street. In essence, the Capulet man is saying he'd want to shove the Montagues under a toilet and give them an excrement shower—or doing something different with the maidens.
    • That theme is developed further when he vows to take the whole Montague clan "to the wall" and his companion advises him that "the weakest goes to the wall". He's speaking (at least overtly) in terms of fighting them, and the implication is that the Montague men, at least, would be in continual retreat from his attacks until they hit the wall, having run out of places to go. He then vows to "thrust the men from the wall, and thrust the women to the wall" — in other words, he'll drag the men out so that he can keep fighting them (with or without the excrement shower) and deflower the women.
  • In Henry IV there is a whole speech full of prostitute jokes at the beginning of the second scene in the first act.
    Prince: Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack and unbuttoning thee after supper and sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know. What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the day? Unless hours were cups of sack and minutes capons and clocks the tongues of bawdsnote  and dials the signs of leaping-housesnote  and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wenchnote  in flame-coloured taffetanote , I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day.
  • Hamlet: "Do you think I meant Country Matters?"
  • In As You Like It, the clown Touchstone gives a speech which is mostly funny because Shakespeare expects "hour" and "whore" to be homophones. This is one of many small things put forward as evidence for the idea that Shakespeare's dialect of Early Modern English most closely resembled the northern dialects of Modern English (in which "hour" and "whore" still aren't homophones, but are closer to being so than in BBC English)—doubtless quite a shock for generations of RP-speaking Shakespearean actors.
  • Romeo and Juliet: The line from Mercutio "O Romeo, that she were! Oh, that she were/An open arse, and thou a poperin pear". The "open arse" is a reference to the medlar fruit, but there is no such thing as a "poperin pear". Separate the syllables, though, and you get "pop 'er in", which means these lines are about... things to do with a lady's rear end.
  • And then there are some lines in Shakespeare the meaning of which is so obscure that even the world's foremost experts couldn't tell you what they even mean. King Lear's baffling exclamation about "a good block", for example, seems to mean nothing at all as far as most editors can reckon. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that Shakespeare never published definitive editions of his own works, and the versions that exist today are often incomplete, damaged, or suffered under over-zealous early editors.

    The Bible 
  • In The Bible, the phrase "And Adam knew his wife" sounds innocent enough, until you learn that in Hebrew, there are two words for "know": one applies to people, and the other applies to inanimate objects. If you use the second to apply to a person, it becomes a euphemism for sex. And now you know. To be fair, the meaning is rather obvious—the next few words are, "and she conceived a son". This one seems to have come full circle, as "knew her in the Biblical sense" has entered the popular lexicon. Still, some translations render such pages into the contemporary English phrases for clarity. This is also the basis of the legal term "carnal knowledge".
    • The Biblical sense of "know" appears in the play The Crucible. One of the most dramatic lines is this:
      John Proctor: I have...known...Abigail Williams.
    • The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) naturally brings this in:
      Nim: I thought I knew you, Caphtorim.
      Caphtorim: You never really knew me. But Shem knows me two, three, even four times a night.
    • The song "If It Isn't Her" by Ani Difranco has the lyrics: "She says, 'Do I Know You'. I say, 'Well, not biblically.'"
    • In an obscure Radio 4 comedy featuring Hugh Grant, "The Crusader Chronicles", there was a marvelous exchange, as depicted here:
      "Cadworthy! I was just, ummm, taking your wife over the scriptures..."
      "Very energetic of you, old boy..."
      "I don't mean in the biblical sense! No, wait a minute, I do mean in the biblical sense..."
    • There is also that bit of dialogue surrounding Tia Dalma's introduction in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
      Will Turner: You know me?
      Tia Dalma: You want to know me.
      Jack Sparrow: There'll be no knowing here!
      Jack Sparrow: I thought I knew you.
      Tia Dalma: Not so well as I had hoped.
    • Also used in this manner in Double Take, when Orlando Jones's character Daryl is being held in a Mexican police station after he pretends to be Eddie Griffin's character Freddie (who's wanted for assassinating a Mexican governor). A woman with a child shows up, whom Daryl recognizes from a party. Surprised, he tells her he knows her. She then claims that he's the father of her child. He tries to deny this to her and the police chief, who points out that Daryl just said he knew her. Daryl explains that he knows her, but not in "the Biblical sense". Crying, the woman tells him that he knows her "mucho times".
    • Jack Chick used this in one of his tracts about the tale of Sodom and Gommorah, with a side of Don't Explain the Joke
      Angry Mob: Lot—where are the men who came to see you tonight? Send them out so that we may know them [sexually].
      • Chances are that Chick felt the need for that hilarious aside because he heard theories that the crimes of the mob weren't necessarily homosexuality and he wanted everyone to be damned sure that it was. Yeah. Never mind that Sodom's crimes were a) rape, not sex, and b) violating the laws of hospitality, per Ezekiel 16:49 and several other places…
    • One of Garth Ennis' war stories has a captured Nazi Nobleman tell a British soldier he might have known his father at Eton. "If you mean in the biblical sense, I believe you. Father's proclivities never cease to amaze me."
    • And getting back to Shakespeare's Hamlet, though he probably didn't mean it that way, considering the scene:
      Hamlet: [holding a skull] Alas, poor Yorick… I knew him, Horatio.
    • This also puts the TV Tropes phrase "Get Known" in a whole new light...
  • More on the Bible. A few examples:
    • Genesis 24:9, Abraham's servant swears by holding Abraham's package: "And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and sware to him concerning that matter." Swearing a promise on your father's genitals (yes, you were expected to cup his family jewels)note  was considered the most sacred of oaths in Jewish society, and in this case, Abraham was a father figure to his servant.
    • In 2 Kings, King Solomon's son responded to requests for lower taxes with "My father's thigh was smaller than my smallest finger." Yeah.
    • Ezekiel 16:25, Ezekiel compares Jerusalem to a prostitute who spreads eagle to every man who walks by: "thou hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied thy whoredoms." In Biblical Hebrew, the same word is used for "feet" and "legs". That preserves the euphemism in modern language! Among popular Protestant translations, the NASB renders this "spread your legs," while the NIV and RSV have "offering your body" and "yourself," respectively. The Catholic NAB has "spreading your legs," and the Jerusalem Bible has "give your body"… "to every comer."
    • Some Biblical pages have been sanitized by translators. One example is in 1 Samuel 20:41: the King James version is (greeting Jonathan) "David arose out of the place… and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times; and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded." More conservative commentators claim that "exceeded" means that he became overly emotional, but at least one rabbi has claimed that in the original Hebrew, the last two words are really "David enlarged"—in other words, "David had an erection."
    • Also, Adam's rib may have had nothing to do with the ribs in his chest, rather a part of anatomy that humans lack.
    • The word "foot" in Biblical usage is often an euphemism for "penis." In 2 Samuel 11:8, David's exhortation to Uriah to "Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet" is meant to get him to have sex with his wife, whom David has just gotten pregnant. (It didn't work, so they went with Plan B.)
    • When Zipporah circumcises her and Moses' son and touches the father's "foot" with the foreskin, this probably also means penis.
    • Thus the Description of the Seraphim, whose final set of wings shield their "feet," was actually referring to them shielding their genitals out of modesty. Considering that angels aren't supposed to have genitals raises interesting questions...
    • In 1 Samuel, Saul goes into a cave to "cover his feet", here meaning "go to the bathroom."
  • The Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs, depending on your translation) consists entirely of explicit love poetry. Taste of my garden, indeed.
    • "I sat down in his shadow [i.e., sat down while he was standing up] …and his fruit was sweet to my taste." Goodnight everybody!
    • "My beloved put his hand by the hole [of the door] and my bowels were moved for him." That has to actually mean more than it lets on. note 
  • Occasionally, “washing of feet” is apparently used as a euphemism for oral sex. This could bring a Genius Bonus to an exchange in Firefly where Mal’s accidental wife “Saffron” asks if he’d like her to wash his feet.

    Comic Books 
  • In Carl Barks' Back to the Klondike, Scrooge McDuck describes Glittering Goldie as "the only live one I ever knew." Given his reclusive, asocial attitude towards life, and disdain for everything except money up to that point, it's entirely possible (indeed, in context, there's no other logical interpretation) that he means this in the above-mentioned clinical sense of "know." This, along with a somewhat more overt gag, is an epic case of Demographically Inappropriate Humour; when questioned by observant fans at the exact nature of Scrooge and Goldie's relationship, Barks tactfully insisted it wasn't something his publishers would want to get into.
  • In Alan Moore's Lost Girls, Alice recalls that when she revealed the truth of Mrs. Redmond's lesbian activities, Lily, one of her playmates, got sent to a nunnery. She questions how exactly that was supposed to remify lesbianism.

  • Bizarrely, and probably unintentionally, used in 1941 (1979). In a deleted scene, Sgt. Tree says he's going to "ream" Sitarski for vanishing during tank maintenance. The common usage of 'ream', to mean 'rebuke', didn't come into American vernacular until 1950. In 1941, however, 'ream' was just coming into usage as a vulgar slang term for anal sex.
  • Back to the Future:
    • There's this (non-sexual) exchange from the first movie that's puzzling to modern audiences. (Pepsi Free has long since been discontinued, so the fifties waiter's interpretation becomes younger viewers' as well. As for Tab, it gradually became less common until finally being discontinued in 2020 — and many younger viewers might only know it from Homestuck.)
      Marty: All right, give me a Tab.
      Lou: Tab? I can't give you a tab unless you order something.
      Marty: Okay then, give me a Pepsi Free.
      Lou: You want a Pepsi, pal, you're gonna pay for it!
      Marty: ...just give me something without any sugar.
      (Lou pours Marty a cup of black coffee.)
    • Ever wonder why Buford Tannen kept referring to Marty as "dude" in Back to the Future Part III? During that time period, "dude" meant City Mouse (hence, a "dude ranch" is a ranch for "dudes", i.e. tourists). Considering Marty is from The '80s, it's odd that he doesn't lampshade how that word changed. For the record, "dude" had acquired its current meaning, at least among hipsters, by the 1960s. The 1969 movie Easy Rider lampshades this.
  • Towards the end of Mary Poppins, the joke where Constable Jones tells his superior to "go fly a kite", then quickly backpedaling with "No, sir, I didn't mean YOU personally...", is often lost on modern audiences. The phrase was once used as a family-friendly version of "Go fuck yourself," but is almost never used this way today.

    Other Literature 
  • The Canterbury Tales:
    • The Monk doesn't give a "Pulled Hen" about the scriptures.
    • In Chaucer's Middle English, the word "queynte" could mean "quaint", "intelligent", or that other word. Chaucer uses this pun extensively throughout the Canterbury Tales, especially in the Miller's Tale.
  • Tristram Shandy has a lot of fun with the fact that, at the time it was written, the word "hobby-horse" could mean either "obsession" or "prostitute".
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe has an anecdote about a fake evacuation meant to rid a planet of "middle managers, hairdressers, telephone sanitizers, and the like". Many readers, especially outside the UK, think "telephone sanitizer" was just a made up term for a useless profession, but it was actually an old British euphemism for "toilet cleaner".
  • A non-sexual version occurs in Emma, when the narrator makes a snide comment about how the new Mrs. Elton is the daughter of a "mere Bristol-merchant." During the Regency and Georgian periods, Bristol was best known for being a slave port, and so the pointed reference to it implies that Mrs. Elton's £10,000 fortune was dirty money. (This is also why Mrs. Elton makes such a big deal about her in-laws being abolitionists.)
  • The Great Gatsby's Daisy believes that the title character made his fortune from 'drugstores' when in fact he had been a bootlegger. Her confusion is bound-up with the sometimes more than ten-fold growth in chain drugstores during Prohibition when the greater part of their business was often in the sale of legal (if barely), doctor-prescribed, 'medicinal' liquor.
  • When Richard Bentley wrote a book proving that the so called Epistles of Phalaris (a Greek tyrant of the 6th Century BC) are a later forgery, he pointed out, among other things, that they describe a father's love for his son with a term that back then, would have meant... a type of relationship unacceptable between a child and a parent.
  • Done deliberately in the Flashman novels. Flashman uses "bouncers" as a euphemism for breasts, which was genuine Victorian slang. Today, of course, a "bouncer" refers to a certain employee at a bar or club.
  • "An X walks into a bar" is currently a Stock Joke. For a while, Wikipedia listed a joke preserved on a Sumerian tablet from 1700 BCE as the first recorded bar joke, translated to "A dog entered into a tavern and said, 'I cannot see anything. I shall open this' ". Then people who knew Sumerian pointed out that the word "éš-dam" rendered as "tavern" could also mean "brothel". Wikipedia updated its entry.
  • Arthur C. Clarke attempted to invoke this in his future-set Childhood's End with the n-word having lost its negative connotations. Needless to say, this doesn't seem to have been an accurate prediction.


    Other Theater 
  • Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore had a very edgy name at the time—"ruddy" and "gore" are two synonyms for "bloody", a cussword that was further beyond the bounds of polite society in those days. When confronted with this, Gilbert responded:
    That would be like saying 'I admire your ruddy countenance' — which I do— means the same thing as 'I like your bloody cheek' — which I don't.
  • The play I Hate Hamlet creates a joke of this quote when Andrew uses Hamlet's speech and the abuse of Ophelia to seduce his girlfriend Dierdre, who imagines herself a Shakespearean heroine.

    Other Word Shifts 
  • The sword in the constellation Orion, under his belt? "Sword" means something else.
  • Any time the word "horns" shows up in Elizabethan English (particularly in The Merry Wives of Windsor), it's usually a reference to adultery. To cheat on your husband was to make him a "cuckold," a reference to cuckoos, which lay eggs in other birds' nests to raise. A cuckolded man is said to have Cuckold Horns, which are actually a reference to stags, who can lose their mate if they are defeated by another male. If a man is said to have horns, it means his wife is sleeping around.
    • This was alluded to in a scene in Hamlet, in which Hamlet wigs out on Ophelia and accuses her of a number of various nasty, sexual things. One of those things was "Men know what monsters you make of us!", which refers to the cuckold's horns.
    • "Horns" shows up in this sense in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.
      • It's also used for symbolism regarding house Baratheon, whose sigil is is a stag. Robert Baratheon's wife Cersei cheats on him with her own brother, Renly Baratheon's wife Margaery eventually marries two of his rivals, Joffrey and Tommen; Renly himself cheats on Margaery with her brother Loras, but she doesn't seem to mind too much. Stannis's wife Selyse doesn't cheat on him at all, but the Lannisters create propaganda saying she did.
    • Memorably used in an obscure gag in The Simpsons, as Homer sees a cuckoo clock in an unfaithfulness situation.
      Cuckoo: Cuckold! Cuckold! Cuckold!
      Homer: [scared] What's a cuckold?
      • In this case, quite possibly the Simpsons episode is referencing Joyce's Ulysses, in which a cuckoo clock chimes three times when a character realizes he's being cuckolded.
    • French horns are used very often in opera to comically announce that a character is being cuckolded (or thinks he is).
    • There's a very good pun in Les Liaisons Dangereuses where Valmont mentions that he's going to visit a nobleman with an extensive forest that he maintains for the benefit of his friends. The French for "forest" is le bois. The French for "horns" is les bois. Mme. de Merteuil writes back to him that the nobleman is a friend to the entire world.
    • "How fitting that Lord Auberon is horn'd" in The Books of Magic
    • The prank of holding two fingers behind someone's head as their picture is being taken is a reference to cuckold's horns. Americans know the prank as "bunny ears," but in other cultures it means your wife is cheating on you.
    • Apparently, this is present in alien languages as well, as mentioned in an episode of Stargate SG-1, where the Jaffa word "Kelmar'tokim" is translated as "revenge by the wearer of horns" and is first mentioned when Teal'c finds out that his wife had their marriage annulled to marry a friend of his. Justified, since the Jaffa are Transplanted Humans, whose language has probably evolved from an Earth one. However, the word is used in another episode to mean a more generic revenge without reference to any sexual betrayal (namely, Teal'c swears Kelmar'tokim on the Goa'uld who murdered his father).
    • Averted in most Hispanic countries, where "Ponerle el cuerno" (Spanish for "Putting the horn on him/her") is still common slang for cheating today.
    • Also averted in Russian, where the word for cuckold is "rogonosets", which translates as "wearer of horns".
    • In Polish as well, which has "rogacz" ("a horned one") as a word for a cuckold, and the phrase "przyprawić komuś rogi" ("to put horns on somebody"), meaning to make a cuckold of a man.
  • Before The '80s, "dork" was a slang term for "penis". Today its alternate meaning, "foolish or ridiculous" is much more common.
    • There seems to be a certain oblivion to alternate meanings of dork. Otherwise, The Dork Diaries, books about a middle school girl would have Unfortunate Implications.
    • The webcomic Elf Only Inn makes use of this tidbit when chatroom maker Lord Elf tries to get the Lord of Dorkness banished, and uses his name as justification:
      Sysop: What??? You want to censor the word 'dork'? Why whatever for?
      Lord Elf: Because it means whale penis, duh!
      Sysop: But neither the word 'penis' nor 'whale' is censored in your room!
    • It meant this up until '87, if The Monster Squad is anything to be trusted. "Of course Wolf Man wore pants. It was the Forties! Otherwise you'd see his... you know. Wolfdork." And "We were wondering if you had ever... um... to what extent you had... been dorked."
    • The Gorgo episode of MST3K featured a whole running gag on a character named "Dorkin."
    • And a line in The Sandman (1989)'s "A Game of You", originally published in 1991:
      Barbie: Guys think with their dorks.
    • And a line in Mallrats, Brodie says, "What about The Thing's dork? Is it like the rest of him?"
    • On the other hand, the first Peanuts comic in which Marcie refers to Peppermint Patty as "sir" (July 20, 1971) had Patty using the word "dorky" to describe both the weather and Marcie.
    • Sixteen Candles, when the brother says in regard to Long Duck Dong, "At least you don't have to sleep under a guy named after a duck's dork!"
    • Gary Larson was forced to remove the word "dork" from one of his The Far Side cartoons when his editor informed him that it meant "penis." He'd never heard of that meaning and looked it up in a slang dictionary to confirm it.
  • In a similar vein, many people who use the Yiddish word "schmuck" have no idea what it means either. (Which really messes up the joke about the guy who rides a camel across town to impress the ladies, "Officer, it was a male camel. I know because I heard all of these people saying 'Hey, look at the schmuck on the camel!'")
    • The meaning of the word "schmuck", believe it or not, was a key point in one of Lenny Bruce's obscenity trials. The prosecution asserted that Lenny was using it to mean "penis". Lenny, meanwhile, had references to dictionaries of Yiddish slang which gave its primary meaning as "fool". These days, "schmuck" has mostly moved into the "fool" meaning. For the dual fool/penis connotation, "putz" is the term more often used. Nonetheless, it's considered a very offensive word by Yiddish speakers, and many Jewish adults, who don't speak much Yiddish, but whose parents did, still remember being punished for saying it. It made seeing the word on a marquee, when Dinner for Schmucks was in theaters quite jarring.
      • Incidentally, Dinner for Schmucks was a remake of the French movie Le Dîner des cons; con itself was once an obscene word meaning "cunt" but is now an expression meaning "stupid" or "an idiot," with the former meaning next to forgotten. Making "schmucks" a beautifully analogous translation.
      • Came up by accident in a 1980 Peanuts storyline, where Lucy teaches Charlie Brown an (initially) unhittable pitch called the "Schmuckle Ball". The choice of name is a portmanteau of "schmush" (Schultz's spelling) and "knuckle", but it's rather like singing the "Name Game" song with "Chuck"...
  • In many languages the word for the mathematical operation opposite to differentiation is a variation of "integral", but not in Polish, where it's been translated to a word stemming from the root of "making something whole", as "integrating" is. Now, since it's an archaism for "virgin", thousands of students each year have to endure terrible, terrible jokes about "integrals" being difficult to find, etc.
    • Which is similar to the reaction of most English-speaking students in their first foreign-language class when they first learn about conjugating verbs.
  • Minion used to indicate a much more specific kind of service...
    • It referred to the Camp Gay favorites of certain courtiers (and of the king sometimes) called "mignons", which today means "cute". Go figure.
  • The word "gunsel", in a way. Back in the day, it meant either a young boy kept for sexual purposes, or the passive partner in anal intercourse. Then writers like Dashiell Hammett began to slide the word into their stories knowing the real meaning, but relying on their editor to not know the word, and assume it had something to do with guns. These days, a gun-wielding hoodlum is a valid alternate meaning, and has appeared in that context on such places as the HBO website, talking about the character of Brother Mouzone from The Wire. (Unless there's something we don't know about Brother...)
  • This cartoon refers to a play on words involving an antiquated use of the word "corporation" to mean "big belly." The same pun is made in 1066 and All That, in which the Corporation Act passed under Charles II "said that everyone had to be as fat as possible."
  • Punk has undergone a remarkable semantic shift over the past century or so. It first appeared sometime around The Gay '90s, and was slang for....well, for a concept quite similar to that covered by gunsel. Flash forward ten and a half decades later, and the primary meaning of punk is not only something non-sexual, but something that can be interpreted as a compliment! Well, depending on whether or not you happen to be in prison, that is.
    • The word is used in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure to mean a female prostitute. (Definitely female - one character knocks her up and is forced to marry her, despite his protestations that "marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death, whipping and hanging.")
  • Frigging, which means rubbing, and is often used as a minced oath, at a time had all the sexual connotations of the very word it's generally used to replace.
    • It still sometimes means a certain sort of rubbing.
  • "Orchids" is an archaic term for testicles - archaic as in Aristotle would use it. It's survived somewhat to this day when referring medically to testicular maladies (for instance, a guy with three bad boys is a polyorchid; an orchidectomy is having one removed), but to most people orchids are simply flowers.
    • It's worse than just that. The word "orchid" is ultimately derived from orkhis, the Ancient Greek word for testicle; the flowers got the name because, well, somebody thought they (well, their roots) looked like...orchids.
      • In fact, orchis is still the Modern Greek word for testicle. Orchidea is the word used for the flower.
      • And that casts new light on the White Stripes song, Blue Orchid. Knowing them, it was probably intentional.
      • And interestingly, one can grind up the roots of some species and boil the resulting flour in water to produce a drink with the color and consistencynote  of semen. The drink, known as salep (from its Turkish name), is understandably considered an aphrodisiac and a restorer of virility.
    • There's a certain irony here since Georgia O'Keeffe, in her paintings of orchids, emphasizes their— shall we say— feminine qualities.
  • The word "enormous" originally meant "extremely wicked and shocking" (a meaning still carried by "enormity"). Most dictionaries still list this as a secondary meaning, although it's usually labeled as archaic.
  • While the current meaning is older, "glory" was more often used to mean "arrogance" or "pride". As in, terms like "vainglory", which is now an archaic synonym for vanity. Outside of religious contexts (where it was and is used to mean "manifestation of God"), it was almost never used in a positive light.
    • Due to its connotation, "Gloria" was not used as an English name until the late 19th century, when George Bernard Shaw used it for his Portuguese character in You Never Can Tell (the word never had a negative meaning in the highly Catholic Portugal, where it is associated with the Marian title "Maria da Glória").
  • Tipping the Velvet (2002): Quite a few examples, most notably the title. "Tipping the velvet" doesn't seem like something dirty... but historically, it meant cunnilingus.

  • The Irish Folk Song The Holy Ground sounds like a love song nowadays, with the narrator singing about the sailors on his ship returning to the eponymous Holy Ground to see the girls they love. This holds until you realize that in the 18th century the section of the port town of Cobh known as the Holy Ground was actually the Red Light District.
  • Nursery Rhymes and traditional lullabies can be rife with this, since the words haven't changed much in at least a few hundred years.
    • When "Lucy Locket lost her pocket", a "pocket" was a detachable pouch women wore under their skirts and over their petticoats. Such a pocket is visible in this painting.
    • No one actually knows what "pop goes the weasel" is supposed to mean. One theory cites evidence that, in ancient Cockney slang, "pop" meant "pawn" (as in "pawnbroker") and "weasel" meant "coat". Thus, according to this theory, "pop goes the weasel" means that the speaker has gone broke and must now sell his coat for money. Another theory suggests that "weasel" refers to a spinner's weasel, which was a mechanical device used for measuring yarn in the 19th century. This device made a "popping" sound after the correct length of yarn was measured. And then there's the unexciting theory that "pop goes the weasel" was never meant to be anything other than whimsical nonsense. Nevertheless, this may be the correct theory. Folklorists Iona and Peter Opie found that no one seemed to know what "pop goes the weasel" meant even when the song first became popular in the 1850s. If you're wondering what any of this has to do with monkeys or mulberry bushes, those lyrics weren't added until later. Anthony Newley lampshaded the origins of the song in his pop/jazz recording of the song.
  • In the old English ballad "Foggy Foggy Dew", one of the possible meanings of "foggy dew" is a euphemism for virginity or the bogeyman, and that the girl's sudden distress came about from an overwhelming desire for the young man. Another verse of the song, according to Wikipedia goes as follows:
    So, I am a bachelor, I live with my son
    And we work at the weaver's trade.
    And every single time that I look into his eyes
    He reminds me of that fair young maid.
    He reminds me of the wintertime
    And of the summer, too,
    And of the many, many times that I held her in my arms
    Just to keep her from the foggy, foggy, dew.
    • When you hear the singer mentioning that looking into the young man's eyes reminds him of the encounter with that fair young maid, it may have seemed like an unnatural attraction to the morally conservative community, as compared to more recent years, now that more parts of the world are gradually granting legal recognition to the LGBTQ community. Folk singer Burl Ives, who claimed that his 1940s version dated back to the colonial days, was jailed in Mona, Utah for singing it in public, and the song was deemed indecent and bawdy for some time.
  • Also related to meanings in living memory but no longer current, Steely Dan's "The Fez" (off 1976's The Royal Scam) is making fun of a guy who "won't do it without the fez on," the "fez" being 1970s slang for a condom.note 
    • This gives bonus meaning to the perpetually horny character of That '70s Show's nickname: "Fez".
  • John Dowland, the famous lutenist and composer, was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and probably just as naughty. His known ayre Come again has this passage:
    To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die with thee again in sweetest sympathy.
    • This part of the melody is sung in a - ahem - rhythmical manner, with a small inhaling between each phrase, while the word die lands on a high note. Could you possibly be more specific?
  • A very peculiar example of this is the Misaimed Hatedom about the story "Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby", who insist that "tar baby" is some kind of anti-African racial slur. As a matter of fact, it refers to a moppet of tar that is used to catch Br'er Rabbit. The story itself was invented by Africans, and is in fact a re-telling of an African mythological tale about Anansi, with the only change being to replace Anansi with Br'er Rabbit.
  • In the '40s, "rocking and rolling" was common slang for sexual intercourse, especially the particularly thrilling variety. Rock & Roll got its name from this expression, as it was a good phrase to slip into the lyrics of a relevant song. As the genre evolved to Rock, the slang faded away (though it still survives in some contexts), to the point that entire discussions about rock can be had without any mention of bawdy lyrics.
  • "Scarborough Fair" (popularized by Simon & Garfunkel) seems to be a song about two lovers setting impossible tasks for each other. But it changes its meaning if you know that a mixture of "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" was used as contraceptive.
  • Several eighteenth-century English Bawdy Songs are all about The Grand Hunt for the "coney," which dictionaries will tell you is an old word for rabbit. The alternate spelling "cunny" (which more accurately reflects pronunciation) is still used today, though never in reference to rabbits.

...Wait, but what does "farthingale" mean when it's not an innuendo? note