LINGUIST List 10.1515

Wed Oct 13 1999

Sum: Bilingual Puns

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  • 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 joke:

    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 magnifique!"


    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 sweep').

    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 email: