Sunday, 19 January 2014

Global Belly Laugh Day

Last time I examined some of the more unusual choices of days to raise awareness for a number of causes – ranging from the worthwhile to the decidedly weird. Amongst those which caught my eye was 24th January, which will mark Global Belly Laugh Day. The idea is simple enough, laughter being the one thing which crosses all boundaries irrespective of creed, culture, race, language, gender, inside leg measurement, et al.

Yet is this actually true? The oft-quoted “Two nations divided by a common language” remarks on the minor differences between American English that spoken in the UK. The same is true of American humor, which is certainly different from British humour and yet the language is still ostensibly English. It got me wondering if humour really does translate. Will a German joke translate to French? Will the Spanish ROFL at a whimsical Welshman? As an experiment I dug out a few jokes in various languages and reproduce them here for your enjoyment (or more likely not).

French: Mother to her daughter: If you are wise, you will go to heaven, and if you are not wise, you will go to hell. The girl responded with “And what do I have to do to go to the circus?”

Spanish: My computer always beats me at chess, but I always win at boxing.

German: Teacher to pupil: “For such impertinence you will write out ‘I am a lazy person’ one hundred times and have it signed by your father.”

While those three could be recognised as humour, thereafter it starts to get a little surreal.

Italian: You cannot call your mother …. You do not have a modem!

Chinese: A little sea turtle was swimming in the middle of the ocean, when he bumped into something floating on the surface. The sea turtle had never seen anything like it, so he asked "What are you?" The thing replied, "I am a dragon", then floated away. One hundred years passed by, and the small sea turtle had grown into a great big sea turtle. He was floating on the surface, and once again he came across his old friend, who he hadn’t seen in one hundred years. He was amazed that, although he himself had changed greatly over the course of a hundred years, the dragon had hardly changed at all. The sea turtle had always believed that he was the longest-living creature on earth, but here was something that lived even longer. He asked, "What kind of dragon are you, that you don’t change and don’t become old and feeble?" "Oh! I am Styrofoam."

The Mandarin Chinese narrative does not work because the same word can be used, depending on the context, for Styrofoam, dragon and a couple of other things. The same would be true about some British comedy, such as the old routine about the different pronunciations for words ending in ‘-ough’ where ‘bough’ is pronounced ‘buff’, ‘cough’ becomes ‘cow’, and so on.

I would welcome any suggestions for themes or subjects, or even specific words to examine the origins, meanings and etymologies. I’d be delighted to hear from you.

1 comment:

  1. David Sedaris has a whole piece on foreign language insults, what works, what doesn't and some really, really bizarre insults/curses.