Translating Humour: Not As Easy As It Sounds

By Stacey
Oct 31, 2015 · 2 min

Translating humour falls into the same category as translating poetry – neither of them is easy!

Translating Humour: Not As Easy As It Sounds | One Hour Translation

Translating humour falls into the same category as translating poetry – neither of them is easy! In your career as a translator you will most likely come across more humour and jokes than poems, particularly when we see that humour is often the resource used in marketing strategies.

Conveying the ‘Idea’ Of a Joke

Creative freedom is so important when translating humour, just as it is in the translation of song or poetry. What often happens with humour is that a joke will completely change when going from one language to another, so this means that it’s very important to convey the basic idea.

A joke consists of style and its double entendre, or play on words. So, when translating a joke, these details must be taken into consideration as we attempt to adapt the original idea or sense of humour to our language.

Oh How True Is This Statement!

In his essay entitled ‘A Pragmalinguistic Approach to Translating Humor’, Leo Hickey said that ‘It’s a well-known fact that humour does not travel well; it usually wilts across the shortest of spans, arriving unravelled, if not deceased, when moving from one language to another.’

We must always be mindful when translating a joke to not produce a literal translation. The goal should be to carry the joke to the target culture of the particular translation. A joke can’t be translated the same way from one country to another, not even within the same language

‘The Funniest Joke in the World’

In the famous Monty Python sketch, ‘The Funniest Joke in the World’, this point is summarized perfectly. The idea behind the sketch is that someone invents a joke that’s so funny that people literally die from laughter the moment they hear it. But as the sketch reaches its end, the Germans make the mistake of translating the joke from German to English, resulting in: ‘zwei peanuts walking down the straße, und one was ‘assaulted’ - peanut.’ Fortunately for everyone, the joke remains buried deep beneath a monument inscribed ‘To the Unknown Joke’!

So, as translators, if we are unfamiliar with the inside jokes and linguistic turns of a particular country the best advice is to contact an experienced translator who specialises in the local language.

Employing the Services of Experienced, Professional Translators

At One Hour Translation we cover all these types of issues, and we have highly professional, experienced and 100% accurate translators on hand ready to take your instructions. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for your next translation project, regardless of how large or small your project may be. We are more than happy to offer an obligation-free quotation on your translation.

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