Three Tips for Translating Humor

03, Nov 2021

Share:

Three Tips for Translating Humor



At first, you may think that translating humor is too difficult, if not impossible. And you are almost right. Translating humor does demand careful and creative work, and there are cases when you simply can’t do it. 

But even in these cases, you can often still create humorous material — text, sound, images, video — inspired by the original. You’re not exactly translating the joke, you’re transcreating it. 

So let’s check a few tips to help you convert witty commercials, funny dialogue and amusing descriptions into a foreign language.

1. When transcreating wordplay, use your ears 

“His name is Eustace, milord,” says a courtier introducing a boy to a dwarf in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair. “Useless?” the dwarf mishears. “I daresay he is.”

When translating this scene into Brazilian Portuguese, where the character’s name is Eustáquio, the translator chose to transcreate the dwarf’s answer as “Batráquio?” (“Batrachian?”) This sounds slightly forced, because the first syllable in each word is so different from the other it would be hard to mishear one for the other. 

But if you just say the name Eustáquio a few times out loud, it’s clear which would be the most likely way for a person to mishear it: “está aqui”, which means “is here.” This makes for a more natural-sounding transcreation, and it also opens the way for a funnier reaction: “He is here? I can see that.”

2. When transcreating image-related jokes — use Google

Now imagine you are subtitling a movie scene where characters are eating tomatoes, and one of them asks: “Why is the tomato red?” — then delivers the punch line: “Because he saw the salad dressing.”

If you are subtitling this in French, you can’t translate the joke. But you can google “blagues avec tomate” — and find a few options of French jokes about tomatoes. 

In fact, there is one which goes: “What does the gardener to do make his tomatoes turn red? He undresses in front of them.” Which by the way only makes only makes sense in French, since in that language “tomato” is a feminine word.

3. When translating a funny commercial, consider if it makes sense in the target culture

This humorous MySwitzerland ad is easily translatable and works across most countries, because the humour is not in wordplay or images, but in the situation. And the situation is not too culture-specific — as long as the audience knows who cinema legend Robert De Niro is, and the types of movies he tends to play in, they will find the ad funny.

The same can’t be said for this ad by the Danish Road Safety Council. While it’s hilarious to Nordic audiences, and to anyone familiar with Viking culture and history, it does not have much appeal outside of that culture. So if you had to transcreate this ad to Spanish, you should create a different story altogether — maybe around bullfighting, or the running of the bulls.

It’s not always possible to translate humor, but more often than we think, it is possible to transcreate it. What you need is enough time, a good knowledge of the target language and culture, and a dose of creativity. 





Other news

16, Dec 2021

5 reasons why you should subtitle your videos

If you are creating videos to attract new prospects and expand your products’ reach, you should be subtitling them. Find out five reasons wht you should subtitle your videos.

See more
5 reasons why you should subtitle your videos
17, Nov 2021

5 ways to improve your ecommerce

Even if your e-commerce business is going well, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Find out five ideas of ways you can take it from good to better.

See more
5 ways to improve your ecommerce
20, Oct 2021

Transcreation - a powerful tool to localise your content

“Transcreation” means recreating a word or sentence in another language. Transcreation recreates a message in a new language, so that it evokes the same emotion as it does in the original language.

See more
Transcreation - a powerful tool to localise your content
16, Sep 2021

3 simple steps to a perfect advertising translation

There’s a lot more to ad translation than just converting the words from one language to another. An advertisement is composed of many elements besides the verbal ones, and all of them must be redirected to target your foreign audience.

See more
3 simple steps to a perfect advertising translation
09, Sep 2021

Audiovisual translation: what it is, and how you can get it right

Audiovisual translation is the translation of the verbal elements in media, which besides language include image and sound.
Like all kinds of translation, is more complex than it looks, but when done right, it can strengthen your professional image and attract better prospects. 

See more
Audiovisual translation: what it is, and how you can get it right
02, Sep 2021

Website localization: 3 aspects you must remember

Website localization means making your website look and feel local to your target audience. It means adapting all of your website content to the local culture and language. 
But do prospects care if your website feels local to them?

See more
Website localization: 3 aspects you must remember
Get a quote
Our clients
Bristol-Myers Squibb
Fresenius Medical Care
Neutroplast
ISQ
Beiraltina
DIAGEO
TIMWE
Altice
R2com
Partners
Hill+Knowlton Strategies
PLMJ
Esquível e Associados
Uría Menendez
Samsung
SAP
Cisco e Essity
Essity
Didi Global
Netjets
Nuno Sousa Moniz & Associados

Processing your message.

loader

Processing your request for a quote.

Success!

email ok

Your request for a quote has been sent successfully. We will reply as soon as possible.

Oops!

email error

We were unable to submit your request for a quote. Please try again.

Processing your message.

loader

Please wait.

Success!

email ok

Your message has been sent successfully. We will reply as soon as possible.

Oops!

email error

Your message could not be sent. Please try again.

Processing your message.

loader

Please wait.

You have been added to our newsletter

email ok

Your registration has been sent successfully

It was not possible to add you to our newsletter

email error

Please contact us