Have you ever tried to translate a joke!?
Take for example the Mia Wallaces tomato joke from Pulp Fiction:
“Three tomatoes are walkin’ down the street. Papa Tomato, Mama Tomato and Baby Tomato. Baby Tomato starts lagging behind, and Papa Tomato gets really angry. Goes back and squishes him and says: “Ketchup.”
If you don’t know that ketchup sounds like “Catch up” in english, this joke would be even less funny than it actually already is…
For example in the german version they have tried to add a few words in order to explain that Papa Tomato punshes Baby Tomato until it becomes some kind of pulp (hahaha … “pulp” fiction … anyway …) but the “catch-up” part got totally lost. And apart from that also the lip syncro suffers.
The spanish version at least has the same amount of words, because they used “flatten” instead of “converting to pulp”. But the ketchup/ catch up issue still remains unsolved.
So it’s no surprise that for many audiences the ketchup gag remains quite tasteless.
In this case we are talking about a wordplay that needs something more than literal translation in order to keep up with the original. And just in case you live somewhere where ketchup is unkown, — for example with a mongolian tribe … it’s getting still harder and even impossible to translate.
Without similar cultural referenecs you may need to swap the idea of perfect fidelity and instead try to use something that kind of fullfills the same intention / function as the original text.
Something similar happens when it comes to SEO related translations. But more about that in my next entry!
Drei Tomaten gehen über die Straße. Vater Tomate, Mutter Tomate und Kind Tomate. Kind Tomate trödelt herum. Da haut Vater Tomate Kind Tomate zu Brei und sagt “KETCHUP!”
Tres tomates caminan por la calle. Papá tomate, mamá tomate y bebé tomate. El bebé tomate se despista y papá tomate se enfada muchísimo. Vuelve atrás, le aplasta y dice: Ketchup!