What’s more difficult to translate than a joke?


15 responses to “What’s more difficult to translate than a joke?

  1. What’s more difficult to translate than a joke?

    Two jokes.

  2. Có gì khó khăn hơn để dịch hơn


    trò đùa?


    câu chuyện cười.

    Apa yang lebih sulit diterjemahkan dari lelucon?

    lucu lucu lelucon.

    • Okay, let me try to explain here. These “two” jokes are harder to translate than just “one” joke. The first is in my other mother tongue, Vietnamese. The second is in a language I used in high school, Indonesian. The joke’s all in the punchline as the set up is pretty straightforward.

      What’s funny, to me, in the Vietnamese translation of the English joke (and now here with my backtranslation) is this: Vietnamese has two different words (at least) for “joke” which mean mostly, more or less, the same thing: these are the respective noun phrases trò đùa and câu chuyện cười. I like it in Vietnamese because the first phrase has the same tone, the falling tone, a sort of rhyme in itself. But the answer to the riddle is longer, sort of corresponding to the answer of the joke itself (i.e., “twice as many”) but, of course, there are three times as many different Vietnamese words making up the later noun phrase. Okay, that’s more detail than anyone needs. But this is absolutely always the best way to spoil and inside joke: to offer a pedantic over-explanation.

      I was trying to be funny by giving “two” translations of a joke. So here’s the skinny on my Indonesian rendering. Read aloud the punchline with the “c” as an English “ch” sound, and you get it right. You also hear the rhyming alliteration: “lucu lucu lelucon.” Again, the fun, the pun, is in the punchline here. More than just the sound part, there’s something grammatical going on. To make a word (like “lelucon”) plural in Indonesian, you can simply reduplicate it (like this “lelucon lelucon”), which means, of course, “jokeS.” Or you can do what I did. You can reduplicate the adjective (like “lucu lucu”), which literally means “funny funny,” and which also literally pluralizes the noun (“lelucon”). It might have been funnier to backtranslate this as “A funny, funny funny” in which the first two “funnies” are emphasizing (if not in English pluralizing) that last “funny,” which in English can also mean a “joke.” Okay. Enough already!

  3. Arkkitehdille sattui vahinko: Oli käytävä vessassa.

  4. Vietnamissa juomaa vesi tulee hanoista.
    Jos olemme kaikki Jumalan luomia, hänellä täytyy olla suuri naama.

    • Would you sound it out for us? I love both of these as I can presume to read them. (But whenever, by my face created like God’s, drank from the tap in Vietnam, I was usually in for some trouble, yes, for the toilet.)

  5. ¿Cuantas estrellas hay?

    (Answer: Sincuenta)

    I don’t think it can be translated to English without losing the humor, since the play on words is lost in translation.

    • Seems the play in these sorts of riddles is usually in the punny punchline.

      “Cincuenta” sounds like “sin cuenta.” The numbers thing reminds me of the misunderstood bandname in the movie, That Thing You Do. The band named itself, The Oneders (which was to be a play on the number 1 and the word Wonder); but, alas, the DJs misread and announced them as the O-Need-ers.

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