Cross-lingual puns

Today we have a guest post from Sol Klein:

While not paying in Latin class recently, I started thinking about a phrase I used to hear a lot of back in elementary school, when half of my educational day was conducted in Hebrew and half in English. The phrase is:

“כי פתח דלת. לא פתח תשובה”, which translates word-for-word to ” ‘because’ opens door. Does not open answer,” and more loosely translated means “the word ‘because’ opens a door. It does not open an answer.”

Which is of course nonsense when translated literally. The phrase, however, is a pun, and works on the assumption that the audience speaks both English and Hebrew. The word for “because” in Hebrew is the first word in the sentence, “כי,” pronounced /ki/, homophonically identical to English “key.” Taking this pun into account, the phrase can be translated in two different ways: “A key opens a door. It does not open an answer,” or “the word ‘because’ opens a door. It does not open an answer.”

This phrase was used to scold us for not answering “why” questions in complete sentences. For example, if we were asked “למה האיש שמח,” “why is the man happy,” we would be expected to reply with “האיש שמח כי הוא אוכל גלידה,” “the man is happy because he is eating ice cream,” rather than simply “כי הוא אוכל גלידה,” “because he is eating ice cream.” If we answer in the lazy latter fashion, we begin our answer with “כי,” /ki/, “because,” making our answer not a complete sentence. Thus our teacher would say to us “(’כי,’ /ki/, or ‘key’) opens a door, not an answer,” and we would groan and rephrase our answer in a complete sentence.

Anyway, I hope I’ve explained this at least somewhat clearly. I realize it would make infinitely more sense to a Hebrew speaker. My question is if you or any of your readers know of any other similar “cross-lingual” puns, where the funny bit depends on an audience’s knowledge of two separate languages, particularly two languages as distinct as English and Hebrew.

One thought on “Cross-lingual puns

  1. I don’t recall whether it was on Omniglot or elsewhere that someone posted the “Challahu akbar” t-shirt.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *