Pouring One Out for the Puns

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here today to mourn the loss of all the poor, innocent puns, taken far too soon from this world, struck down in the act of translation from English to Spanish.  Some may not mourn their loss, some may even feel the world is a better place without them, but even the most hardened among us must take pause and reflect on the translators whose job it was to snuff them out, often without any way of saving the poor pun’s life, but occasionally with cold indifference that could be avoided.  Regardless of intention, all paths lead to tragedy, for with every murdered pun, confusion is sown in its wake.

So, I like puns.  I know, I know, stop looking at me like that.  Puns are great!  Really!  Okay, I’m not going to convince anyone who hates them that they’re actually an interesting and elevated form of humor, but I ask those of you who are of that mind to bear with me even though I won’t be panda-ring to you (sorrynotsorry), because puns are especially interesting in the context of different languages.  Lots of languages have puns (I’d go so far to say that all languages have puns, but I cannot say that with certainty), but puns are by their nature intrinsic to the language they’re constructed in.  Very few languages have puns that directly translate and make any sense, as the word play gets destroyed in the translation process.  There are some exceptions, often between languages that are very closely related, and those exceptions are usually remarkable as a result of surviving translation.  There was a post making the rounds on twitter a while ago about a pun that worked in both English and Spanish, albeit for different reasons in each language:

Where do cats go when they die?  PURRgatory.  ¿A dónde van los gatos cuando mueren? PurGATOrio.

Most of the time, though, puns begin and end in the language where they were born.  And when the majority of the media you consume is translated from a different language and you’re the sort of guy who would like media riddled with puns, you end up seeing their gruesome deaths a lot.

Many of them are totally unavoidable.  The first book I read in Spanish, Charlie y la Fábrica de Chocolate, has an aside made by Willy Wonka: “Lo mismo que un huevo escalfado no es un huevo escalfado a menos que haya sido robado en el bosque en plena noche,” which means “The same as how a poached egg isn’t a poached egg unless it has been stolen from the forest in the middle of the night.”  Which is a perfectly serviceable (terrible) pun in English, but unfortunately in Spanish, the word escalfado only means poached in the sense of an egg; the word for poaching an animal is birlado.  The joke is so dead that the translator had to leave a footnote explaining what the hell the sentence meant.  With solemn dignity, I propose a toast to that joke.  With maybe a little hollandaise sauce.

(Still not sorry.)

In television and film, often times you don’t even get the footnote.  In the My Little Pony episode Owl’s Well that Ends Well, a character is looking for a quill and asks another character if she has one.  She then gives him a quince, a quail, a quilt, a quesadilla, and a quiche (those last two were pronounced with the American QU sound, to my brain’s dismay).  The poor translators had no chance here.  The word for quill is pluma, and the objects given were una pera (pear), un ave (bird), una cobija (blanket), una quesadilla, (pronounced correctly here), y espuma (foam).  None of these sound enough like pluma for the word play to make sense, with the exception of the last one, where they tried desperately to save the joke.  Problem was, the quiche didn’t look like foam, it looked like a quiche.  There was no way to salvage that gag, it was dead in the water the minute the translators started in on it, and they didn’t exactly have the option of leaving a footnote anywhere.  If I hadn’t been familiar with the bit in English, it would have been totally opaque to me, and I imagine it was totally opaque to any native Spanish speakers watching the dub.

I don’t envy those poor translators.  English works are littered with little puns and play on words everywhere that just don’t work in the slightest outside of English, and they have the job of making the dub entertaining, but also legible, and legibility becomes a problem when the words just don’t make sense.  The worst I’ve seen is an episode of Magic School Bus about ants, where characters make jokes like ‘presidANT’ over and over again through the episode, and the poor translators just made limp, senseless portmanteaus with the Spanish word for ant, hormiga, like ‘presidormiga’.  There is no winning there, and the mound of corpses grows thicker despite their best efforts.  Where I’m less understanding, though, is when the translators decide to be insane and ruin puns for no reason, in ways I just don’t understand.

So I started Bojack Horseman this week, replacing Magic School Bus in my list of things to watch in an attempt to have a show in my TV block aimed at an older audience (while still watching cartoons.  Don’t judge me).  In an early episode, the character Mr. Peanutbutter is starting a Reality TV show he wants to call Peanut Butter and Jelly, which Bojack hates because there isn’t a ‘Jelly’ in the show.

All right, so the stage is set.  The character’s name is Mr. Peanutbutter, the show is named Peanut Butter and Jelly, there is no actual “pun” here to translate, as both peanut butter and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich are things that exist in Spanish.  Señor Crema de Maní, and crema de maní y jalea.  This isn’t hard, the joke still works.

Okay, but for the dub, they opted to not translate Mr. Peanutbutter’s name from English, going for Señor Peanutbutter.  Okay.  A lot of names don’t get translated during a dub, it helps with matching lip movements, and it isn’t like they’d usually translate proper names like John into Juan or something.  Fine, so they’re treating it like a proper name.  So he calls the show Peanut Butter and Jelly and the joke gets left unexplained in Spanish?  No?  Okay, so do they call it Crema de Maní y Jalea and not explain that Mr. Peanutbutter’s name means—no?  What’d they go with then?

Peanut Butter y jalea?

Twilight_Sparkle_facehoof_S1E4

And of course they eventually find someone serving on the production staff of the Reality Show whose name is Jalea, so if they were going to translate a proper name for her in the FIRST PLACE why did they—I think I need to go lie down.

Okay, let’s get into the numbers for the week.

Tuesday 8/14

  • Anki: 140 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 98 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Wednesday 8/15

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 72 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Thursday 8/16

  • Anki: 140 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 82 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of Harry Potter y el Prisionero de Azkaban, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Friday 8/17

  • Anki: 120 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 80 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of 1984, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Saturday 8/18

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 112 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of 1984, ~80 minutes

Sunday 8/19

  • Anki: 130 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 98 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of 1984, ~80 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes

Monday 8/20

  • Anki: 140 cards reviewed, ~10 minutes
  • Duolingo: 108 XP earned, ~30 minutes
  • Reading: 2 chapters of 1984, ~100 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Miraculous, 1 episode of My Little Pony, 1 episode of Bojack Horseman, ~60 minutes
  • Total Anki: 940 cards reviewed, 70 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 650 XP, 210 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 18 tv episodes watched, 360 minutes
  • Total reading: 14 chapters read, 560 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 hours 0 minutes

Another great week, which is getting kinda boring to say.  I’m just toooooooo good.  Anyway, as I said in the main post, I switched out Magic School Bus for Bojack Horseman this week in order to have something more complex to listen to as part of the watching/listening block.  It is certainly more complex than the other things I’ve been listening to, and as a result it’s a little bit harder to follow, but I’m getting by okay.  Hopefully it will get easier as time goes on, but in the meantime it hasn’t kept me from enjoying the show.  This current block feels sustainable until I run out of a show (which will be Miraculous, sometime early next month), and I’m tentatively planning to try and watch some movies aimed at adults when I feel like a movie.

Also worth noting here is me missing the TV block on Saturday, which was caused by a busy day involving watching a Broncos preseason game.  I am very happy that football (the North American variety) is back.  There might be other hiccups of short-days in future recaps as a result of me watching games.  I’m not giving up my football.

Moving on, after finishing El Prisionero de Azkaban, I felt up for a challenge, so I opted for 1984.  It is much more difficult to follow, as expected, but I can follow it, so I’ve been continuing on with it.  Despite the reading being kind of slow going, the book isn’t terribly long and at the end of Monday I’m about two thirds of the way through it, so I should be getting back to Harry Potter sometime early on in the week after next, all things go according to plan.  I’m enjoying it so far.  1984 is a book I haven’t read before but have always meant to, so I’m killing two birds with one stone here.

I’m almost out of the “story” section of Duolingo, so the XP there is probably going to end up dwindling further in the next few updates.  Depending on how the generalized review things feel to do when I’m back to working on those, I might end up changing up that block entirely, if it feels like a waste of time by that point.  A changeup like that might be good, as it’s starting to feel a little monotonous writing this recap section.

Welp, that’ll do for this one.  TTFN.

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