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How to Translate a Joke

Humor is, without a doubt, one of the hardest things to translate. This was definitely apparent in the worldwide coverage of the Egyptian uprising earlier this year: jokes were central to the protests, but according to Al Masry Al Youm, unless they were written in English they were often lost in translation.

Is it possible to translate a joke? Of course, but it can be difficult because jokes often depend on “inside knowledge” that has to be explained to outsiders.  As the saying goes, “if you have to explain a joke, it isn’t funny anymore.” Also, what people consider funny can vary from place to place. Consider, for example, how different American humour is from British humour, even without a language barrier to cross.

Al Masry Al Youm looked at the English translations of two popular (and funny) Egyptian novels to get a better idea of how translators handle this particular hurdle. Read more