Hi everyone,

I work in En-Fr but I thought my question might beneficiate everybody, especially beginner translators. A few weeks ago I translated a lot of [customer name has been edited out due to privacy reasons] articles, and on one job (words that have a different meaning when you have siblings) I encountered an issue: puns.

It was:


What it usually means: A large firearm which shoots a number of small, spherical pellets from a fixed shell.

What it means to siblings: What you have to shout every time you get in the car so that you can get the front seat. The rules must be obeyed canonically unless you lose, in which case you must run to the car and steal the seat anyway. This will almost always result in a massive fight.”

The problem was that “shotgun” in French doesn’t have that other meaning and I couldn’t come up with anything close enough. I ended up “rewriting” parts of that job by choosing another word for the pun, in order to get something that would make sense in French. Since the client’s comment specified that they want the translations to make sense in the target language rather than being literal, I thought it was okay.

Any advice? What could I do better next time?


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    This is one of the points that make translating such an interesting and challenging work (and one of the reasons why humans will never be replaced in translation, by the way).

    I think that you could explore several alternative paths in such a case:

    First, there are cases where a pun indeed works in both languages. This might be due to similarities between the source and the target language, or due to cultural similarities or simply because parts of our culture are so global today that some puns are international. Therefore, some puns can be translated more or less literally. Of course you have to check this thoroughly and make sure that you do not fall for a false friend here.

    Second, you can try to replace the original pun with another from the target language. If you are creative, and a translator should have a creative streak, you can try to come up with something similar even if it's not the same. This of course requires a degree of freedom in the translation job; if the client particularly asks that you stay as close to the original as possible, you cannot do this.

    Third, you can convey the pun by simply explaining it. Sometimes you have to do it this way. You translate both meanings and explain to the reader in your target language what is going on here. Of course this will destroy the funny effect, since no joke is funny if it needs to be explained, but if it's important to convey the complete meaning this might be the only way to do it.

    And finally (at least I have no other ideas here), you can simply drop the pun and go for one of the original meanings, so that the target text does no longer contain a pun but at least the main content is conveyed. This might be frustrating, but a certain loss is unavoidable in translation, we all know that.

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    Hello all,

    Just for fun, here is one I came across recently: "Winter is cumming"

    The context was a [customer name has been edited out due to privacy reasons] article. It had to be related to Game of Thrones  and it had to have a (slight) sexual connotation:

    Which “Game Of Thrones” Character Would You And Your S.O. Have A Threesome With?

    Anybody up for the challenge?

    (I myself gave up on the job itself as I wanted to grab another, but since then I've been wanting to find something good...)

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    I forgot to add: in French!!

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