According to the dictionary the two words are synonymous to each other but I think there is a subtle difference in meaning between the two words that I do not find in the dictionary.

I thought of this question when I heard the word 'insinuendo' in a movie. The actor blended the words 'innuendo' and 'insinuation' and created an interesting and funny portmanteau.

  • Yes. And ins(in)uendo should be refudiated!
    – Kris
    Dec 28, 2013 at 8:51
  • It was actually 'insinuendo'; you're absolutely right. I don't know how I wrote it the way I did. I inadvertently invented another portmanteau!
    – user15851
    Dec 29, 2013 at 9:25
  • More inventions happen by accident than intent.
    – Kris
    Dec 29, 2013 at 11:23

2 Answers 2


"The difference lies at whom the comment is directed and who determines the allegation is unwanted."

While technically the words are considered synonyms of sorts, pragmatics suggest a substantial difference in several aspects.

Bruce Fraser writes in Perspectives on Semantics:

Whereas an insinuation can be directed either at the target, the audience, or to both, an innuendo is directed only to an audience. An innuendo is a special type of insinuation in which the implied message is intended for the audience and it doesn't matter if the target is even aware of the comment. To be sure, the comment giving rise to an innuendo may be spoken to the target, for example, when Bradley said to Gore, "Let me explain to you. Al, how the private sector works," but the innuendo was meant for the audience, who at that time, were potential voters for Bradley. (p.331)

  • This sounds very right. Wow, who knew? Dec 28, 2013 at 9:52

I thought the reason might be that in modern parlance, innuendo is rarely used to the full extent of its definition (an oblique or allusive remark, typically a suggestive or disparaging one; pg. 730, The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 10th Edition). Rather, in my experience anyway, innuendo is practically always seen in phrase 'sexual innuendo', which Wikipedia defines as follows:

A 'risque' double entendre playing on a possible sexual interpretation of an otherwise innocent uttering

To my mind, 'insinuation' retains a much broader base of application, so sentences like 'Her voice contained the insinuation of guilt' or 'In his extreme politeness was the insinuation that I didn't belong' are perfectly natural. I've never encountered 'innuendo' in such contexts.

However, that theory doesn't bear out on a Google n-gram comparing the occurrence of 'innuendo' and 'sexual innuendo'. Based on what I proposed, one would expect that in recent times, the usage of 'innuendo' and 'sexual innuendo' would be roughly equal, suggesting that 'innuendo' usually appears as part of the phrase 'sexual innuendo' or that 'innuendo' would only just exceed 'sexual innuendo', suggesting occasional use of 'innuendo' in other contexts. Instead, this is what I got:

enter image description here

Shocker: 'innuendo' is five times as common as 'sexual innuendo'...

Although, it would seem that of the two, only 'innuendo' can be sexual. The phrase 'sexual insinuation' practically doesn't exist, or at least, so says Google Ngram Viewer. So maybe that's the difference between the two you're looking for

enter image description here

That being said, I look forward to a more solid answer, if such can be provided. I just gave my thoughts to get the ball rolling.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy