It is widely known that humour, like poetry, is quite difficult to convey in another language, and therefore puts a strain on translators. But what happens when humour is about translators? Although we usually strive to remain unnoticed in our work, we are highly resourceful when it comes to fun, and making fun of ourselves can be very healthy, stimulating and, as you will see below, revealing. To get to know our trade better, and to welcome spring in a cheerful mood, here is a collection of the best jokes and amusing quotes starring translators and interpreters:

Q: Why would translators make useless hairdressers?

A: They like splitting hairs.

A Spanish-speaking bandit held up a bank in Tucson. The sheriff and his deputy chased him. When they captured him, the sheriff, who couldn’t speak Spanish, asked him where he’d hidden the money.

„No sé nada,” he replied.

The sheriff put a gun to the bandit’s head and said to his bi-lingual deputy: „Tell him that if he doesn’t tell us where the money is right now, I’ll blow his brains out.”

Upon receiving the translation, the bandit became very animated. „¡Ya me acuerdo! Tienen que caminar tres cuadras hasta ese gran arbol: allí está el dinero.”

The sheriff leaned forward. „Yeah? Well…?”

The deputy replied: „He says he wants to die like a man.”

Q: How does a freelance translator define „weekend”?

A: Two working days till Monday.

A missionary goes to Africa to visit a very old, primitive tribal community. He gives a long sermon. For half an hour, he tells a long anecdote, and then the interpreter stands up. He speaks only four words and everyone laughs uproariously. The missionary is puzzled. How is it possible that a story half an hour long can be translated in four words? What kind of amazing language is this?

Puzzled, he says to the interpreter, „You have done a miracle. You have spoken only four words. I don’t know what you said, but how can you translate my story, which was so long, into only four words?”

The interpreter says, „Story too long, so I say, ‘He says joke – laugh!’ ”

Two translators on a ship are talking.

„Can you swim?” asks one.

„No”, says the other, „but I can shout for help in nine languages.”

„Translators never die. They just meet their final deadline.” (Lanna Castellano)

A cat is sitting on the throne, and two dogs, an envoy and his interpreter, are standing before him. The interpreter dog is whispering to the envoy dog, „You’ll have to rephrase that. Their language doesn’t have a word for ‘fetch'”.

A translator gets 400 words to translate.

Client: How long will it take?

Translator: About a week.

Client: A whole week for just 400 words? God created the world in 6 days.

Translator: Then just take a look at this world and afterwards take a look at my translation.

„Translations (like wives) are seldom faithful if they are in the least attractive.” (Roy Campell)

Q: How many translators does it take to change a light bulb?

A: It depends on the context!


A: None, they get it changed by a machine, but they still charge for changing the light bulb as if they had done it themselves.

Q: How many interpreters does it take to change a light bulb?

A: I can’t tell you, it’s confidential.

A: 10. 1 to change it, 9 to give feedback on how they would do it differently.

A: 3. 1 to change it, one to give feedback, one to give unwanted advice from the crowd.

In the days when Bismarck was Chancellor of the German Empire and a towering figure in Europe, an American lady visiting Berlin desperately wanted to hear him speak. The concierge of the hotel she was staying managed to get her two tickets for the visitor’s gallery of the Reichstag – one for her and one for an interpreter he had also found for her.

And she was lucky indeed. Shortly after she and her interpreter had arrived, Bismarck started to actively participate in the debate – and of course, the lady was very curious to learn what he said. So she leaned towards her interpreter in order not to miss out on any of the interpretation. But although Bismarck had already spoken for quite some time, the interpreter remained silent and did not even react when she nudged him.

When she couldn’t bear to wait any longer she hissed at her interpreter: „Tell me, what’s he saying?!!”

The interpreter kept his eyes fixed on Bismarck and replied: „Please, bear with me, Madam – I’m still waiting for the verb”.

„All professional translators meet deadlines. Extrovert ones also meet clients.” (Magda Phili)

An architect and an engineer, sharing a bar counter with a conference interpreter, try to stake their claim as to the seniority of their respective professions.

The engineer goes „Read the Bible, in the beginning there was chaos… and then God built the world, i.e. the first engineer!”

„Ah, yes, ” says the architect, „in the beginning there was chaos and God did indeed build the world… but before He built it He first had to conceive it, i.e. the first architect!”

Whereupon the interpreter raises his weary head from his glass and says „…and who do you think had created chaos?!”

„Translators are like ninjas. If you notice them, they are no good.” (Etgar Keret)


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