English is such a rich language for ambiguities that you can have almost as much fun trying to write a sentence that cannot be misunderstood, as writing lines that deliberately exploit a play on words.
And characteristically, the way we most commonly describe a play on words is ‘double entendre’ which, of course, is not English at all (which, incidentally reminds me of one of my favourite jokes; you know the one…).
The flexibility of the language has often been brilliantly exploited by lyricists, especially in the classic Broadway era in the thirties and forties.
The authorities in some states were in no doubt that Joe Young had more than the bottom of the page in mind when he wrote, in the song “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”
A lot of kisses on the bottom
I’ll be glad I got ’em
and banned the version released by the Boswell Sisters, who had the first big hit with the song in 1936.
Ben of the Spikedrivers recounted this tale when introducing the song at Mick and Deborah’s wedding – and hopefully it’s true. Deb’s sister went on to give a spellbinding version of the song.
Madeleine Peyroux also has a good version, but check out the Bozzies on Youtube.
(And may all your letters come with kisses on the bottom).