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Humour and Translation

Humour and Translation

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Translation is very interesting when working with humour. Let’s take a look at an example: in the film ‘When Harry met Sally’ there is a scene where Sally tells Harry about her boyfriend Sheldon. There’s a joke about the name of her boyfriend: Sheldon is a name but at the same time “seldom” is an adverb of frequency. However this joke doesn’t transfer into other languages. So, in the translated versions the joke is lost and the only thing that comes across is that Sheldon is a strange name.  Imagine if the boyfriend was called “Peter”, would there be anything funny? This is what happens in the Spanish version.

Unexpected humour is also a frequent occurance in translation due to cultural differences and double meanings of words in other languages – let’s take a look at some adverstising campaigns which didn’t quite go to plan.

The Scandinavian company Electrolux brought out an advertising campaign in the United States to promote their hoovers and the slogan, which was trying to express that there was no other vacuum cleaners as good as theirs, but was translated into English as “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”

When American Airlines wanted to promote their new confortable leather seats, they translated their English slogan “fly in leather” word for word into Spanish “vuela en cueros”, which literally translated means “fly naked”. The problem here is that whilst “cuero” means leather, the expression “en cueros” means naked…which they probably didn’t want on their new leather seats!

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