Translating humor

Here is an interesting article about the problems of translating humor from English into German. … 04,00.html

The thing that interested me when I read the article is that even though my family has been here for 150 years, we still have that German style of humor, added on to the American style.

Someone should write an article about translating English humor into English. For example, British comedy does not travel well across the Atlantic. Americans say British humor is “dry”, which is a nice way of saying not funny.

There’s one episode of the cartoon show “King of the Hill” in which a mother sits her 12-year-old son down and forces a British sitcom on him, as if it were some disgusting food that’s good for him. The boy says, “That man’s wearing a dress,” and getting no response from his mom, makes a disturbed face.

This is the key to how Americans deal with British comedy. A typical American thinks that since the British have British accents, they must be more intelligent than we are, and so if they don’t like some British comedy show, or they think it’s idiotic, they blame it on themselves and not on the show. Their attitude is, “I will watch this show, and I will force myself to like it!” Similarly, you can show Americans the stupidest movie the French nation has ever produced, and they will think it is art, just because it was made in France.

I began to understand some British humor a little better when a Scotsman explained to me how some of it centers on strained attempts by the English to be calm and polite at difficult moments. This was a huge revelation, because in those same situations, no American would feel any need to be courteous, so there would be no joke.

Hi Jamie, why does a typical American think that is somebody has a British accent, they must be more intelligent? Is there a particular accent the Americans classify as intelligent or is it just RP? I mean, what if a person has a Cockney accent, does the typical American interpret this a sign of high intelligence? What about an Australian or Irish accent? What is the American’s perceptions of those?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, talks: Describing the advantages of investing in the stock market[YSaerTTEW443543]

Americans can distinguish those accents, and they just attach their stereotypes of each nation to them. The Australian is supposed to be an alligator-wrestling good ol’ boy. The Irishman is supposed to be a good ol’ boy who drinks a lot, and the Irish woman is expected to be very pious and proper. You’ll also notice that in old American movies and cartoons, many of the policemen have Irish accents. (If the films had been made in my area, they’d have given the police Belgian accents.)

However, there is no one Irish accent. American TV has to run subtitles when some people from Ireland speak, while there are other Irish who speak almost exactly like Canadians.

If you want to copy an English accent of the Hooray-Henry type and mind you there’s no earthly reason why you should but if you do, try speaking with your upper lip totally rigid. It don’t half sound funny. Or you could listen to the current heir to the throne - repression with a capital R. Oh dear now I’ve blown my chances of a knighthood.


Hi Sir Alan :smiley:

You’ll never guess what you’ve got me doing… :lol:


Maybe this comes from having to attend all those boring royal (and unroyal) events that must be a royal pain. You must end up developing the art of speaking without hardly any lip movement while keeping a fixed smile and a rigid posture. I bet those sotto voce comments are often far from protocolary.

Don’t worry, Alan. We can always apply for a Prince of Asturias literary Prize!


I tried doing it too!! Can you imagine all of Alan’s readers doing the same facial gymnastics upon reading his suggestion?!

Hi Conchita,

I’ll settle for that prize any day. Thanks for that - I am beginning to feel regal already.