LINGUIST List 10.1515

Wed Oct 13 1999

Sum: Bilingual Puns

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Anatol Stefanowitsch, Sum: Bilingual Puns

Message 1: Sum: Bilingual Puns

Date: Wed, 13 Oct 1999 13:59:00 -0500 (CDT)
From: Anatol Stefanowitsch <>
Subject: Sum: Bilingual Puns

A while ago I posted a query asking about bilingual puns, which I loosely
defined as 'puns based on similar sounding words across two languages.'
Thanks to all of you for the great examples that you sent me.
 I have left the replies unedited (except for some minor changes in
layout). I have simply ordered them alphabetically according to language
pairs involved, and I have also ordered the names of the languages in each
pair alphabetically. I'm not sure if this is the best way to do it, but
it's the best I could think of. 
 I hope you all have as much fun with these examples as I did.


From: Alexandra Jaffe <>

I can give you two from Corsican-English.

One is, 
"Do you speak English?"
"No, I spicca figatellu"
_spicca_ is the Corsican verb for "unhook" and figatellu is a type of
sausage that used to be hung (and thus unhooked) from the rafters.

The other involves play on "Chicago" which sounds like "ci cagu" in
Corsican, which means, "I shit there."


From: Joachim Ballweg <>

An englishman rides a taxi in Amsterdam. He gets out and says to the
driver "Tak euw well"(many thanks). The driver responds the usuall "As euw
belift" whereupon the Englishman says "I never did!"


From: Diana Ben-Aaron <>

Bilingual puns are extremely common in Finnish advertisements. Usually
they are Finnish/English. For example this advertisement for pear cider
sold under the name "Perry":

Matkan parhain hetki on pa"a"sy Perrylle.
Journey's best moment is getting destination-to.
'The best moment of a journey is getting to the Perry.'

This is a pun on _perille_, an adverbial meaning 'to the destination'. The
fact that _parhain_ rather than the more common form _paras_ is used for
'best' may contribute to the pun.

It goes to your other query as well [Note: this refers to a query about
pseudoloans, the first part of which is summarized in issue 10.1388,
A.S.], since the name Perry was constructed to look like a loanword - the
pronunciation as a native Finnish word would use back _y_, which
incidentally means it would not sound like _perille_ - and yet I can't
think of a language where pear drinks are called by any name like Perry -
certainly not in American English.

Another example, an ad for candy:

Enemma"n namia, va"hemma"n mania.
More yums, less money.

_-ia_ is a plural partitive ending. Added to _nam_ which is how you say
'yum' in Finish, it becomes _namia_; then to complete the wordplay they
made up the form _mania_ which can only refer to English _money_ as far as
I can see - 'money' in Finnish is _raha/rahat/rahoja_ (the last is the
plural partitive form that would be required by the sentence above).

Caveats: I'm reproducing these from memory, and I'm a native speaker of
English, not Finnish.


From: Richard Laurent <>

I don't have any references to give you, but I do have a pun one has to
know English and French to appreciate.

C'est vache le chaos. /se vaS lx kao/ (where S = Eng. sh, x = schwa) 

Literally meaning 'Chaos is annoying,' it depends on the near- identitical
pronunciation of Engl. cow and Fr. chaos.

From: "Rogers, Catherine" <>

I don't have a reference for you, but an example, which I've heard as a

Question: "How do you say 'Easter is a good idea' in French?"
Answer: "C'est une bonne idee." (bunny day).

From: Jules Levin <>

There is the famous Frenchman's remark upon hearing Beethoven for the
first time: "Oui, une vrai bete aux vents..." 

A racist joke the punchline of which is "Say, bo'... Non, c'est


From: Lynn Eubank <>

Don't know if this would be of interest, but, if I recall correctly, back
in the 1970s there used to be a column (?) in the Munich newspaper
(actually the Sueddeutsche Zeitung) called the Filzerbriefe. In these
faked letters, a (fake) representative to the Bavarian state legislature
would write to various folks, including to the president of the US, among
others. The fun part was that this Bavarian didn't know any English (and
as little German), so he'd translate with a dictionary, morpheme by
morpheme. As a result, he's wind up with such things as the "Munich
For-Sweep Four-Colored" when referring to the Muenchner Verkehrsverbund.

From: Tonio Green <>

I can't give you any literature on bilingual puns, but I can give you some
more German-English examples: there's a hair salon in Berlin called _Hin
und Hair_ (cf. _hin und her_ 'back and forth'), and the slogan of the
Berlin Sanitation Department is _We kehr for you_ (cf. _kehren_ 'to

From: Horst Simon <>

The Berliner Stadtreinigung had a very nice bilingual advertising campaign
some months ago. In my opinion the best is a poster of two sweepers
looking very nicely, and the caption reads: _We kehr for you_.

From: Charles Hoequist <>

Ger. 'Danke vielmals' - Eng. 'Donkey fieldmouse'

From: Damon Allen Davison <>

Eng. Donky Shine = Ger. Danke Scho"n


From: Blaine Erickson

I know I've heard and made English/Japanese bilingual puns, but I can't
come up with many right now. One is _I think soo omoimasu_, where _I
think so_ and _soo omoimasu_ mean the same thing.

Another is _saiteku_, where _saite_ is the continuative of _saku_ 'to
bloom,' and _teku_ is a loan from English _tech_ (i.e., technology).
Basically, it refers to the blossoming of technology (I saw it in an ad).


From: Jules Levin <>

A Russian immigrant friend of mine, when he was first learning English,
would say as a greeting, "Xow are your deals?", i.e., "Kak dela..."


From: Annette Claycomb <>

There's the one about the gentleman trying to buy hosiery in Mexico but
not understanding Spanish: "S-O-C-K-S!" and the clerk hears, "Eso, si
que es!"

From: Charles Hoequist <>

A Spanish-speaker goes into a clothing store to buy some socks.
Unfortunately, the salesman knows only English. They run through a whole
series of exchanges where the Spanish speaker keeps saying "Quisiera
calcetines, por favor!" and the salesman brings out shirts, ties, pants,
("No! *Calcetines*!") etc., with growing annoyance on both sides. Finally
the salesman produces a pair of socks. The customer says, "Eso! Si, que
es!" ("There! Yeah, that's it!") To which the exasperated salesmen snaps,
"Well, why didn't you just spell it in the first place?!"

From: Jules Levin <>

I've also heard the fascicious translation _Como Usted frijoles?_ for _How
you been?_ [pronounced _bean_]


From: Louanna Furbee <>

The best bilingual pun I know is actually trilingual. It was
"perpetrated" by a North American, Ann Leggett, an artist who lived in San
Cristobal Las Casas, Chiapas, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, spoke
Tzotzil Maya fluently (and Spanish), had numerous compadre relationships
with Zinacantecan Tzotziles. She told it to me herself, so I presume it
is real:
	One day Ann was going about with a visiting Gringo and a
Zinacantec comadre or compadre in San Cristobal, and they stopped for a
bite to eat at a less than touristic eatery. The Gringo was a bit worried
about how picante the food might be, and asked Ann, "Is the food hot?", to
which she replied "Ya!". Ya for 'yes' in English, for 'yah' ('it's
picante' in Tzotzil), and 'ya' ('now', also a sort of 'sure is!'
affirmative in the local Spanish.


From: Jussi Karlgren <>

This takes the form of a cartoon, where someone walks up to two people to
ask the time.

- Wieviel Uhr ist es? ('What's the time')
- Es ist kein Filur, es ist mein Bruder Frans.

The question can be segmented into "Wie Filur ist es" which is bad German
but sounds reasonable enough to a Swede; "Filur" is a Swedish word for a
mildly excentric person; the answer protests "that is no Filur, it is my
brother Frans."


Nobody came up with any linguistic literature on bilingual puns. All I can
offer at the moment is an a collection of bilingual puns by Richard
Lederer, _A bilingual pun is twice the fun_, which can be read online at
 However, I received three replies that mentioned books that may be a
good source of bilingual puns.

From: Anette Claycomb <>

There's a whole book of Mother Goose Rhymes composed of French sound-alike
words: 'Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames' by Luis d'Antin van Rooten. Penguin
Books Ltd, 1967.

From: Bruce H. Spencer <>

I couldn't think of any examples, but I might be able to suggest a rich
source of puns. Several years ago a prof handed out copies of a chapter
from a novel written in English, German and Genglish; the whole point of
the book is to make all sorts of strange puns, jokes and cultural
observations that only make sense if you understand both languages. (That
was his first semester teaching in the U.S. and our seminar had involved
very heavy code-switching.) The title is 'Ferien mit Doosie' and the
author is Werner Lansberg.

From: Randall Henry Eggert <>

You probably already know of this one, but in case you don't: Burgess' 'A
Clockwork Orange' is a wealth of Russian-English puns of this sort.

Once again, thanks for your replies!

Anatol Stefanowitsch
Rice University
Dept. of Linguistics - MS 23
6100 Main Street
Houston, Texas 77005-1892
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