Jokes Jokes Jokes: Translation compensation with ‘A Boy Name Flora A’

Another joke today from ‘A Boy Name Flora A‘ this one of the blue variety (or yellow as they say in Chinese).


The translator has tried to compensate for not being able to translate the joke fully by creating a different joke in English with the same material. It’s quite artfully done although the joke doesn’t make as much sense with reference to the character and is a tad less graphic.


-「安宮主委 鄭夾贈」
-夾你的屁股啦,爽啊!一個人,「叉」四個,叫做爽。一個人插四個,那真的很爽。

First the kid is reading the words written on the van “Donated by Rui An Temple Commisioner Zheng Shuang” out loud to the older guy, but he mistakenly reads 「爽」(Shuang) as 「夾」 (jiā), as part of the name Zheng Shuang. When not used in names “夾” (jiā) means “to pinch” and “爽” (shuǎng) means joy or pleasure, generally with a heavy sexual connotation.

The older guy then replies “夾你的屁股啦” / “‘Pinch’, my arse!”, which is also funny, because it can be read as “Pinch my arse!”. He then points out the differences between the character 「夾」 (jiā) and the character “爽” (shuǎng), by describing 「夾」 (jiā) as a person radical (大) with two 叉 (乂) parts, even though the actual form is 「人」. Then he describes the character “爽” (shuǎng) as a person radical (大) with four 叉 (乂) parts. As 「叉」(chā) which represents this shape 「乂」 in the character is a homonym for 「插」(chā) meaning to insert in Mandarin, the sentence can be interpreted another way: “If you insert (插) four (implication is penises) in one person, that’s real pleasure (「爽」shuǎng). Although the last 「爽」(shuǎng) he pronounces using its Taiwanese pronunciation sóng.

The translator has tried to compensate in the English with a joke about exes:

-“Donated by Chairman of Rui An Temple Jia Zheng”
-That’s not “Jia,” dumbass. It’s “Shuang.”
-It looks like a man in the middle
with four “Xs.”
This character is called “Shuang.”
One man with four exes.
That’d be fun.

I think that this is a decent attempt to try and conserve the humor of the situation, as it can be read as sarcasm, but the English audience don’t know the relation between fun and shuang unfortunately.

Lost in Translation: ‘A Boy Name Flora A’

Recently I’ve been getting into a Netflix adaptation of 《花甲男孩》, a book written by Yang Fu-min (楊富閔). The author was in the younger year of my graduate institute while I was studying at NTU and I previously interviewed him (awkwardness all round) here. The series is called ‘A Boy Name Flora A’ in English (not quite sure how that got past the editors). I’ve just started, but so far it’s quite funny. As a lot of the humor in the show involves wordplay, however, I have to wonder how much of it comes across in English.

One example is in the first episode, where you can see the difficulty in trying to translate a dad joke:

-欸,你懂易經嗎?
我只知道易經他媽是誰
-誰?
液*晶(yìjīng)螢幕 (易經in(他)母())

液 is normally pronounced yì in Mandarin in Taiwan, although elsewhere you’ll find it listed as yè

-Oi, do you understand the Book of Changes?
– I only know who the Book of Changes mother is
– Who?
– An LCD screen (homophone for “the mother of the Book of Changes” in Taiwanese)

So in, Taiwanese, “in ” means 「他媽」 or 「他母」. The in is sometimes written using the following character (a combination of 亻 and 因):

Alternatively 怹 can be used.

The translation on the Netflix series, understandably maybe, gives up on trying to show where the humour is:
– Hey, do you know what I-Ching is?
– I only know its mother.
– Who is it?
– It’s I-Ching as in an LCD screen.

It brought me back to my days hanging around with a crowd from Pingtung where all the punchlines of the jokes were in Taiwanese – and just didn’t sound funny when they “explained the joke” in Mandarin after the fact.

I imagine those translating it also struggled to make a distinction between the “feel” of the Taiwanese and the Chinese in the English translation.

Anyway – lunch-break is almost over, so I’ll leave you with another bit of slang the show taught me today:

「蛇」(snake) here is short for 「魯蛇」 which is a transliteration of “loser”:

「我一生下來也沒有這麼蛇啊」
(I didn’t start out a loser.)

I’d never heard 蛇 used independently of the 「魯」 in this way before.