Jokes that can’t be translated

Sucking the joy out of language for 30 years

Things written in [square brackets] are in the International Phonetic Alphabet.

French: A farmer in Picardy takes his pig to the vet.  The vet says to him: c’est tatoué?  The farmer says: ben sûr c’est à mwé!

English: What’s black and white and [rɛd] all over?  A newspaper.

American Spanish: How is a cat like a priest? Ambos [kasan].  


The French joke relies on a regional dialect where oi is at least sometimes pronounced wé rather than wa.  The vet asks the farmer is it tattooed? in standard French, but the farmer understands it in the regional dialect as is it yours?, and answers of course it’s mine!

The English joke relies on the homophony between the color red and the past tense of the verb to read.  This riddle puzzled the shit out of me when I was a small child, which in retrospect I should have realized meant that I was never going to be a very good linguist.

The Spanish joke relies on the American Spanish non-distinction between the pronunciation of and s.  (“American Spanish” means Spanish as spoken in the Americas, i.e. South, Central, and North America.)  A cat casa (hunts), while a priest caza (marries).  They’re written differently, and in Spain (and maybe some upper-class American dialects, but I can’t swear to it) are pronounced differently, but they’re pronounced the same in the Americas.

Sucking the joy out of language since 1989,

Beauregard Zipf


English notes

vet: This word can mean two things in American English:

  • veterinarian, as in the joke.  Examples:
    • took my dog to the vet just to find out he’s sick af (af = “as fuck,” an adverb meaning “a lot”)
    • My dog hates going to the vet.
    • Ask a cat vet online now
  • veteran, or former member of the military.  Examples:
    • She and other vets said there’s frustration that the President is quick to claim credit for successes and happy to bask in the reflection of the military’s luster but doesn’t follow through on tough issues. 
    • Vets groups decry hatred, racism in wake of Charlottesville violence (Source: headline here.  Charlottesville is a city in North Carolina where the president of the United States of America defended a white supremacist rally at which an anti-racism protester was killed.)
    • The veteran’s voice is crucial to changing the hate rhetoric directed at Muslims. “When I served in the United States Marine Corps, I took an oath to the Constitution of the United States. There is a First Amendment, which respects religious tolerance and freedom of speech,” stated John Amidon, Vietnam vet and member of Veterans For Peace.

Picture source: https://www.memecenter.com/search/vet

3 thoughts on “Jokes that can’t be translated”

  1. What I liked to do in travels were cross-languages jokes ( sometimes at my expense) .
    There is an innocuous one : imagine 50 kms from me there is THE town called Condom, which became famous in the Anglo bubble because of English perfidy . Passing by this town is a source of laughter for them BUT the joke is far better with the complete name of the town . It is Condom-sur-Baïse .The Baïse is the local river and the umlaut makes it sound Ba-eez . But take the umlaut off it gives “baise”, which I guess you understand .
    Towns names on road signs are written in capital letters, and accents or umlauts don’t show in capital letters, so when you enter the town you see proudly written CONDOM-SUR-BAISE . Monolingual folks can’t react but isn’t it a good one for us bilinguals ?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Being dyslexic I have to say that these kind of jokes are often lost on me. Unless they are explained, like here, and then I find them amusing!

    Liked by 1 person

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