Puns across the Atlantic

September 30th, 2006

Puns don't translate.

It's a sad fact that my favorite form of humor is one hundred percent lost in translation. Many a marketing slogan or headline has turned into gibberish as a result of someone trying to too literally convert it to another language.

I was reminded of this by a line in the English version of Madrid's metro map. Referring to ongoing construction, it blares, "Only one season to go!" meaning the construction would be finished at the end of summer. While this is not gibberish, and is better than some other poor works of translation, a season is certainly an interesting unit of measurement to use, and it doesn't quite get the meaning across. As soon as I saw the Spanish version, though, I understood.

Spanish punSolo queda una estación, it says. The pun lies in the word estación, which has a double meaning. The phrase could just as easily mean "only one station to go," which in the context of subway construction would make more sense, but which is obviously not true given the state of the stations. (My understanding is that this construction is for normal enhancements to the subway, and not related to the recent bombings.) A small fotenote explains the real meaning of the headline. Who says Europeans have no sense of humor?

Now if only I could make "camiseta de toro" sound as funny as "bull shirt."

Bull shirt