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The Problem with Humour and Sarcasm

man laughing at digital content on smartphone
in Blog

Humour and sarcasm can be extremely difficult to translate. Take the word ‘humour’ itself; even that is spelt differently in the UK compared to the US, and can mean ‘the quality of being amusing’, ‘comply with the wishes of a person’ or even ‘bodily fluids’ when used in a historical context – and that’s just one word, so imagine the nuances where wordplay and puns are also concerned.

Types of humour can vary even between the different regions of the UK, so when the rest of the world is taken into account, and you’re trying to convey that specific sense of humour in a different language, this can present a huge challenge.

When Jokes Fall Flat

The effective use of humour can add a distinct voice and sense of personality to your online content and other marketing materials, but the meaning of jokes, puns, wordplay and sarcasm can quite literally be lost in translation when your content is being localised.

Not only can this cause confusion, but it also risks losing your audience’s engagement altogether, particularly if articles and landing pages end up overwhelmed with footnotes explaining the language nuances – whatever the context, explaining a joke will always fall flat.

Meanwhile, sarcasm can be hard to convey at the best of times without the use of a well-placed ellipsis, winking emoji or face-to-face contact.

All of this creates challenges for translators and interpreters – but by working with experienced experts, you can make sure your content stays relevant, engaging and effective, regardless of where your readers are in the world.

The Challenges in Translating Humour

Some examples of humour and sarcasm will be untranslatable, particularly if they include slang or colloquialisms. Other instances, such as subtle wordplay and specific examples of cultural humour, will be extremely difficult to translate into other languages.

Jokes may concern celebrities, politicians or popular culture references that don’t mean anything to the rest of the world, so care needs to be taken when localising documents containing these.

What’s more, it’s important for translators to remember that not all humour will remain appropriate when translated into a different language; it’s one problem if it feels silly, but another one entirely if it could be deemed offensive due to cultural differences.

How to Approach Translating Humour and Sarcasm

It’s important for translators to have good knowledge of the cultural, religious, social and political differences surrounding the languages they are working with in order to translate humour effectively.

Translating humour also requires a degree of creativity – and an element of thinking on the spot for interpreters. For example, translators – with a client’s permission – could choose to replace a specific usage of humour with another joke or pun that works similarly well within the context.

How Can Language Connect Help?

Language Connect works with an experienced network of translators and interpreters across the globe, who have knowledge of the cultural nuances of different countries, as well as their languages.

Contact us today to find out how we can help with your translation needs, from the light-hearted to the serious and everything in between.



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