Eating penguin chocolate bars with a couple of Spanish friends the other day got me thinking about jokes, puns and play on words in general. The Spanish translation of the word “pun” is “juego de palabras”, meaning literally “word game”, which sums up just what a pun is. Having always been interested in language and humour, I am a big fan of word jokes, and feel particularly proud of myself when I make what I consider to be an amusing pun (though others might disagree…).
We regularly groan at puns printed on the front pages of tabloid newspapers, and at the jokes printed on penguin wrappers and in Christmas crackers. Last year in fact, The Sun newspaper held a competition to see if its readers could “Out-pun the Sun”, inviting readers to give their best suggestions. Shakespeare used puns in Romeo and Juliet, and puns also appear in Harry Potter and James Bond books, which are internationally popular and have been successfully translated into many languages. Idioms and puns often have similar equivalents in languages with a common root, but there’s always a challenge for the translator to convey the original meaning, and this is why literary translation in particular is such a specialised and highly-prized skill. (more…)