09 January 2010

The Common Denominator

I am very fond of humor and I enjoy a play on words in any language. When I was a kid we used to tell riddles and recite little poems that twisted words about to make them humorous. One of the earliest that I can remember goes:

That's life!
What's life?
A magazine.
How much?
Five cents.
Too much!
That's Life!

My father was also fond of words. He used to recite little nonsense poems that sounded like he was talking in another language and you had to guess the meaning. One of my favorites went:

Saville, derdaygo,
Tousen buses inarow.
Nojo, demis trucks,
Summit cowsin, summit ducks.

Say Billy, there they go,
A thousand buses in a row.
No, Joe, those are trucks,
Some with cows and some with ducks.

Mexican people do the same kind of word play in Spanish and it is very funny in Spanish but when you try to translate it into English you end up with a lot of explaining to do, not only because of language differences but also differences in culture. Here is an example that I received from our shop superintendent, "El Machete", the other day. There is quite a play on words here. Take note that the word "araña" means "spider" as a noun but the verb "arañar" means to scratch or claw something. Also note that "gatillo" means "trigger" but it also means "little cat" (kitten). The word "tuerto" means "blind in one eye" and I discovered that there is no one word for that in English even though there is one word for it in Latin, "luscus", for "blind in one eye".

¿Por qué un tuerto no va a la guerra?
Porque un tuerto es un ser.
Sears es la marca de una pistola.
La pistola tiene un gatillo.
El gatillo araña.
La araña teje un hilo.
El hilo se cose con una aguja.
La aguja tiene un ojo.
El que tiene un ojo es un tuerto.
Un tuerto no va a la guerra.

Why won't a "one eye" go to war?
Because a "one eye" is a being.
Sears is the brand of a pistol.
The pistol has a trigger.
The kitten reaches out its claws.
The spider spins a thread.
A thread is sown with a needle.
The needle has an eye.
One who has one eye is a "one eye".
A "one eye" doesn't go to war.

Now, I know what you are thinking. It may sound cute in Spanish but it falls very flat in English. That's the whole point. Once your ability in Spanish reaches the level where you and "get" the jokes you will really start to appreciate the humor of the Mexican people. Run this one by one of your Mexican friends or neighbors and see what they think. I'll bet that you at least get a grin if not a chuckle.

Here is another one that I call "The Common Denominator". It is a little "off-color" but more in the way of being scatological than being prurient. I guess you would call it a Mexican limerick.

En este mundo de matraca,
De cagar nadie escapa,
Caga el cura,
Y caga el papa,
Y hasta la mujer más guapa,
Deja su montón de caca.

In his world of nuisance and bother,

Nobody escapes the need to defecate.
The priest defecates,
And the Pope defecates,
And even the most gorgeous woman
Leaves her pile of "crap".


Leslie Harris (de Limon) said...

Wonderful post, as always. And so very true, too. I was raised by my Mexican grandparents and have been fluent in Spanish since the age of 5. I watched all the telenovelas with them, and even episodes of Chespirito. But my grandparents weren't the kind to joke around, so I never understood the jokes. It wasn't until I married my Mexican hubby, that I was able to "get" the joke. And that was only because he would patiently explain the joke to me. And now, there's hardly a joke that I don't understand.

Saludos para ti y Gina.

YayaOrchid said...

Bob, I just think it's great that you're so fluent in this new language you live in. When you're able to understand the nuances of all manner of jokes, that just means you are really immersed in the culture! LOL!

Don Cuevas said...

When I was in a language school home stay with a family in Cuernavaca (back in my middle years, 1992), I'd make elaborate Spanglish puns and jokes, which almost no one in my Mexican host family would "get".
I embarrassed myself more than once.

Don Cuevas

Pedro said...

Here's another version I grew up with.

En este mundo matraca,
Nadia de cagar se escapa,
Caga el rey,
Caga el Papa,
Caga el buey,
Caga la vaca,
Y hasta la mujer mas flaca,
Hecha su bolita de caca.

Bob Mrotek said...

Thank you Leslie and Yaya!

Don Cuevas, I make a fool of myself quite a bit. It's the only way to really dig down and learn.

I like your version a lot better than mine. Thanks!!!

Calypso said...

Bob you are the John Ciardi of the 21st century my friend.

Bob Mrotek said...

Thanks Calypso,

But I'm not a poet
Or if I am
I just don't know it :)

Gringa-n-Mexico said...

OOOoooo I love these in English, how exciting that they have them in Spanish too! My Aunt was always running around singing "Mare's Eat Oats" to us, did your Dad sing that one?

Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?
Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?

I sing it to my little one now that she's born - lol how will the poor thing ever learn to speak? :P

Thanx for sharing Mr. Bob, VERY cool :)

Bob Mrotek said...

Thanks for the nice comment. Yes, Mairzy doats is one of my old time favorites. It is nice that you reminded me. By the way, with a Mom like you I think that your little girl will grow up to be a linguaphile :)

GlorV1 said...

Oh you are a poet, a teacher, and a wonderful friend. Thx for stopping by my blog to wish me a HB. I appreciate it very much. Take care.

Suzanne said...

my father sang mairzy doats too, he loved to sing little songs like that.He had others... if I could just remember them. I'll ask my brother.

John's father ( and John, now) always said 'city prune' for pretty soon and 'see the waiter' for see you later.

A fun post!

Angela said...

Fun. Are there any nonsense phrases that don't translate to anything? The two jibberish phrases I always say in English are (spelled phonetically):

ish bibbley oaten d'oaten bo bo ba dit in dot wah dot in chew

-- and --

ricky ticky tembo no sar rembu char-y bar-y ru chen pip perry pembo

I don't recall where I learned them (though the second might be from a children's book about Ricky Ticky Tavvy). I'm fairly certain they are pure jibberish, but that have a nice rhythm.

Jaimetown said...

Hey Bob,

I love your blog. I'm usually just a lurker, but this post got me to thinking about one of the first jokes I heard in Spanish. I didn't understand the play on words for a long time, but once I realized the double meaning I thought it was pretty amusing. It goes like this:

Q: ¿Cual es el animal mas infiel?
A: El pato. Porque siempre anda con dos patas.

With Bob's grasp of the language, I know he will get it right away, but for those still learning like me, here's the rough translation.

What is the most unfaithful animal?
The duck, because he always walks around with two 'patas'.

The translation for patas are animal feet or paws, but patas can also mean 'female ducks'.

Bob Mrotek said...

Thanks for the kind words. Be careful. The word "pata" can mean different things in different countries or regions, some good and some bad. A "Pata Salada" is a person from Puerto Vallarta and a "Pata de perro" is someone with itchy feet who wanders around. There are some more "Patas" that aren't so mild but I won't mention them here. I'll let you discover them on your own.

Leslie said...

Hey Bob,
Found you from your profile at SpanishDict.com

I'm a beginner in Spanish and here is my favorite language joke that involves Spanish.

A Spanish speaking man went to buy some socks, but had a hard time explaining to the English speaking saleslady what he wanted. He pointed and gestured. She showed him shoes, shoe polish, shoe laces... and eventually she gave up and turned to help the next customer who, coincidentally, also wanted socks.

When the woman went and got the socks for the second customer, the Spanish speaking man said "¡Eso! ¡Sí qué es!"

The sales lady said "Well if you could spell it, why didn't you just do that in the first place?"

Bob Mrotek said...

That is the best one that I have heard in a long time. Excellent! Thank you! You win first place :)

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.