Beyond Words - Language Blog

Pun Intended: 10 Puns in Translation

It’s been a while since we’ve written about fun language games, and you know what they say: Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.

English critic and poet, Samuel Johnson once said of puns, “If I were punished for every pun I shed, there would not be left a puny shed of my punnish head.”

Over the years, the pun has received a bad rap from many language lovers. Even a well-timed pun is susceptible to the old charges: oh that’s cheap, or, you know that’s the lowest form of humor.

Nevertheless, few wordsmiths can claim innocence to the charge of punning. With proper timing, and in the right situation, the pun is simply too tempting. Today, we celebrate the pun. Here are ten foreign language related puns:

Question: Have you stayed at the new luxury hotel?
Answer: Yes, it’s a site for soirées!

A French boy buys three cats and names them Un, Deux, and Trois. He has to cross a river by boat to return home, and sadly the boat capsizes on the way. When the boy gets home he cries to his mother, “Maman, maman, Un, Deux, Trois cats sank!” (The punch line sounds like the first five numbers in French: un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq.)

Question: Que hace el pez? (What does the fish do?)
Answer: Nada! (It swims! / Nothing!)

What do you call a secondhand clothing store in India? Whose Sari Now?

Coup de grâce: What a French lawnmower does.

A man walks into a Russian airport and says to the ticket clerk in English:
“I want two tickets to Dublin.”
The confused clerk asks in Russian:
“Куда, блин?” (Where to, damn it?)
To which the customer replies:
“To Dublin!” (Tуда, блин!) (“To there, damn it!”)

Having come into an inheritance, a snail goes to an automobile showroom to purchase a new red convertible. The snail asks the body-and-paint man to paint a capital S on each door of the car. When asked why, the snail replies:
“When I drive down the street, I want everyone to point and say, ‘Look at that S car go!’”

During her first visit to the U.S., a young Spaniard saw a Coke machine with the word D-I-M-E flashing on a small screen next to the coin slot, obviously referring to the currency of payment.
She bent in close to the machine and whispered, ‘Una Coca-Cola, por favor…’”
(Dime is the Spanish command “Tell me.”)

A Hispanic man visiting the United States goes into a shoe store to buy a pair of socks. He speaks no English, and the clerk does not speak Spanish. The visiting man attempts to explain what he needs while the clerk brings out loafers, sneakers, slippers, then shoelaces, and finally a pair of socks.
The man exclaims, “Eso si que es!” (“That’s what it is!”)
“Well, for crying out loud,” shouts the clerk, “If you could spell it, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

One of the world’s most compact and effective puns deserves a bit of background history: In 1843, British general Sir Charles James Napier helped to quell an uprising in the Indian province of Sindh and announced via telegram one word: Peccavi.
Peccavi is the first-person past perfect of the Latin verb peccare (to sin), making Napier’s message “I have sinned/ I have Sindh.”