"You don't know my name, do you?"
July 24, 2015 9:15 PM   Subscribe

A translator's struggle to export Seinfeld to Germany. How could she possibly translate the episode where Jerry doesn't know the name of the woman he's dating, but only knows it "rhymes with a female body part"?

And what to do with all those Nazi references? "It was a fine line: Der Suppen-Nazi? Sure. Subtle reference to an uncle who survived a concentration camp? Not so fast. An entire episode based on George being mistaken for a neo-Nazi was problematic . . ."
posted by John Cohen (67 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Puns and wordplay never translate well. (Often they don't even survive moving to other English-speaking nations... or from Texas to New York) But some things are just wrong in any language. (Of course, now everybody knows Poland Springs was conquered in the Nestle Water Brands blitzkrieg.)
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:23 PM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Curious how the problem doesn't go the other way. I mean, I've never noticed a translation problem with any of the German sitcoms that are broadcast in the US . Or the Dutch ones, or the French ones, or the Italian ones, etc. Isn't that odd?
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:44 PM on July 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


"There was an episode where a teacher who [sic] (in the original version) pronounced George’s last name like CantStandYa. The german version was slightly different where the teacher called George Kotztanzo. The result is equally funny since both versions nail the point (the teacher disliking George and thus pronouncing his name like some sort of insult)."

My german is a little rough but I think that "Kotztanzo" insult is based on "kotzen" meaning "puke".
My german GF in the 90s thought The "Cotswolds" was a hilarious placename because it sounds like "puke forest" in her language.
posted by w0mbat at 9:50 PM on July 24, 2015 [14 favorites]


"Bitte ein Toilettensquaren?"

I would like to drink with the Always Sunny translators.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:53 PM on July 24, 2015 [9 favorites]


I love the sneering comments about what isn't funny in Germany.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:55 PM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Curious how the problem doesn't go the other way. I mean, I've never noticed a translation problem with any of the German sitcoms that are broadcast in the US . Or the Dutch ones, or the French ones, or the Italian ones, etc. Isn't that odd?

Because translators work really hard to make sure you never notice.
posted by dilaudid at 10:30 PM on July 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


Curious how the problem doesn't go the other way. I mean, I've never noticed a translation problem with any of the German sitcoms that are broadcast in the US . Or the Dutch ones, or the French ones, or the Italian ones, etc. Isn't that odd?

Que?
posted by infinitewindow at 10:33 PM on July 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


Nazi references are included whole hog. I asked a German friend, for example, about what was left out on German eps of American Dad (one of my fave shows that I know is broadcast ad nauseum in Deutschland) and the answer is absolutely nothing (as one of thousands of American sitcom examples, and every other form of entertainment because they dub it all in Germany). They never, ever ban or alter content with Nazi refs, comedic or otherwise.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:42 PM on July 24, 2015


mulva?
posted by poffin boffin at 10:44 PM on July 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


I suppose it's a digression but It's just sad that the rest of the world gets to see our stuff if it wants, sometimes ad nauseam, but when we get a TV show from outside the U.S. it's almost inevitably in remake form, unless it's on PBS. And either way, almost all of those are from the UK. The remakes are usually markedly inferior as well, whether UK sourced or not. See The Slap, The Killing, etc.

In any event, it's a pity Americans are so hostile to foreign language stuff that there's not enough of a market to warrant translating any TV series. Just another contributor to our mind-shuttering insularity.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:45 PM on July 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


I love the sneering comments about what isn't funny in Germany.

What are you talking about, sorry?
posted by Sebmojo at 10:45 PM on July 24, 2015


What's going on in this thread?
posted by andoatnp at 10:55 PM on July 24, 2015


This was also covered recently on Slate's Lexicon Valley podcast (episode link). Interesting stuff, and having done a bit of translation work myself, I'm so glad I haven't had to tackle any comedy yet.
posted by p3t3 at 10:59 PM on July 24, 2015


The remakes are usually markedly inferior as well, whether UK sourced or not. See The Slap, The Killing, etc.

...The Office...
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:08 PM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Asterix comics by Goscinny and Underzo are one series that seems to have translated very well from the original French into a wide variety of languages despite the jokes very often being based on puns, wordplay and literary references. The English translations by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge are hilarious, and I'm reliably informed by my Finnish aunty that Asterix in Switzerland is the funniest in any of the 5 or 6 languages she speaks. There is a wikipedia page that describes some of the ways jokes were translated, transformed and created by Bell and Hockridge.
posted by drnick at 11:30 PM on July 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


I dated a German woman who was a translator.She said the problem was English just has more words and ways to describe the same thing, this makes translating jokes and puns difficult as they tend to not sound very clever if done literally.
posted by boilermonster at 11:33 PM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


* funniest in Finnish. Asterix in Switzerland is funniest in Finnish.
posted by drnick at 11:39 PM on July 24, 2015 [7 favorites]




Or perhaps the Dutch don't like Seinfeld because it's shit, and not because we miss all those hilariously subtle language jokes.

And any article that disses Roseanne to praise Seinfeld knows nothing about comedy, Jon Snow.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:31 AM on July 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


Uschi?
posted by chillmost at 1:55 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


The same procedure as last year, Jerry
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:37 AM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Doug Hofstadter has a wonderful take on translation that quickly expands to cover the topics of life, death, consciousness, the universe and everything.
posted by phenylphenol at 2:45 AM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Three thoughts:

1) The Stranger
I once went to a talk by a woman who'd translated Camus' L'Etranger into English, discussing the whole translation process and the particular problems this text presented. She put the first paragraph of the French text up on the screen and asked everyone in the audience to give their own English translation aloud, as a group. This was a UK literature festival, so most people in the audience had enough French to stumble through it, and enough of us chose exactly the same English words as we went along for our collective voice to sound semi-coherent.

The exception was the word "maman", where almost everyone in the room seemed to opt for a different English equivalent: mother, mum, mummy, ma etc. The speaker then explained this was one of the hardest words to translate well in the whole book because it contained so many assumptions about the narrator's class, the part of France where he lived, the closeness (or otherwise) of his relationship with his mother, how formally he choses to write and so on. She then had to ask herself those questions all over again with regard to the target markets her particular edition would be sold in: "Mama" has quite posh connotations in England, for example, but not so in America. There's a New Yorker discussion of the issue here.

2) Tintin
Back in 2005, I went to a art exhibition at London's National Maritime Museum, showing original art from the many sea-going stories Herge wrote about Tintin. The cartoonist's extensive research for these stories was on show too. One surprising insight was how important it is to translate a comic's sound effects well. The show illustrated this point with a panel from The Red Sea Sharks showing Captain Haddock toppling off a raft into the sea. They accompanied this with a rotating dial showing how the English sound effect ("SPLOSH") had been translated into many different European languages: "XAAAAP" in Catalan, "PLATSCH" in German, "PLASK" in Icelandic, "FLOUTCH" in French and so on.

Here the issue's a cultural one of choosing which particular sound effect that particular country traditionally associates with someone falling in the water. English readers would find that Catalan "XAAAAP" very disconcerting if it popped up in an English-language Tintin volume, and be pulled out of the story as a result. Presumably, a Catalan reader would be equally puzzled by "SPLOSH" - even though the sound itself is the same the world over. I very impressed that Herge and his publishers went that extra mile to get even this little detail right.

3) Seinfeld
I'm struggling to remember the subtle reference to Jerry's uncle having been in a concentration camp. Could someone remind me?

Incidentally, the BBC did buy the rights to show Seinfeld here in the UK early in the show's run (first season, I think), but never really had any faith in it. The gossip was that BBC executives thought it was "too New York" to catch on here, and hence they buried the show in a very late-night slot, never at quite the same time in two consecutive weeks. It was left to the cable channels to do it justice over here, and they reaped the rewards when it became a hit.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:47 AM on July 25, 2015 [14 favorites]


The hardest part of translating stuff has to be taking account cultural differences between the source material and the country that translation is going to be used.

For instance, in here, it's always amusing to see quarterback being translated very often as defender here because it ends in "back" and most translators don't bother to do any better. Unlike basketball (well established sport with our own terms) and ice hockey (mostly same positions and roles as soccer) or even baseball (positions describe actions or field positions in simple terms), there are no good terms in Portuguese for most positions (too different from rugby, barely any press, those who talk about the sport always used the english nomenclature).

Two decades after it went off the air, Seinfeld remains relevant to American audiences — thanks in part to omnipresent syndicated reruns — but in much of Europe it is considered a cult hit, and commonly relegated to deep-late-night time slots.
I remember being up until 3 or 4 am to catch an episode in the mid-late 90s, and VCR programming recording often missed either start or end because of unregulated advertising. One time, the whole show was shifted by 20 minutes of almost literally non-stop ads. These days network TVs barely even try to have shows - people usually see them on cable channels (I think there's something close to 10 channels broadcasting reruns of shows) or download them.
posted by lmfsilva at 4:07 AM on July 25, 2015


"Dolores" doesn’t rhyme with any German words for a body part, and a fabricated name would detract from the joke.

Erm... Dolores (stress on the "lo") and clitoris (stress on the "it") is a pretty wonky rhyme in English to begin with - but if that's ok, why wouldn't Dolores (perfectly normal name in Germany), rhyme with Klitoris? (I might be mistaken, but think I've sometimes even heard it pronounced with the stress on the "to", which would make it a better rhyme than in the original!)

Also:

Uschi?
posted by chillmost at 10:55 PM on July 24 [+] [!]


Nothing to hold against the rest of the article, but...
posted by progosk at 4:30 AM on July 25, 2015


On rtfa:

Finally, she hit upon a distinctly German solution: she substituted Dolores (rhymes with "clitoris") with Uschi (rhymes with "muschi," slang for vagina). Uschi is a relatively common German name, short for Ursula. Perfect.
posted by progosk at 4:35 AM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Some translations are indeed funnier than the originals! I can vouch that The Emperor's New Groove is pants-wettingly funny in Chinese.

I've studied translation and there's nothing like the thrill you get when you hit on the equivalent rhyme or cultural reference in the other language.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:13 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry, on remembering I'm not entirely sure we weren't just juvenilely laughing every time they said llama.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:25 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I dated a guy who grew up with Asterix in French and I don't think I realized some of the name puns (Getafix, whatever the bard's name is) until we had a conversation where I discovered the names changed in the translations.
posted by hoyland at 5:36 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]




"muschi," slang for vagina

Actually, it maps fairly well to "pussy", covering both genitalia and felines.
posted by Slothrup at 5:53 AM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine who worked in The Netherlands a few years back told me that 'Allo 'Allo! was very popular over there at the time (as a sub-set of all British television being popular, helped by the fact that they could at the time tune into the BBC)

Allo 'Allo was a sitcom based around the French resistance - French characters spoke French as English with a French accent, German characters spoke German as English with a German accent... English characters spoke English with an exaggerated 'toodle pip!' upper class accent (when French characters spoke fluent English they did the same). The show introduced a policeman character who was actually a British spy and spoke terrible French... he spoke English with a normal English accent but his words were mangled into a phonetic French accent for comic effect - 'Good moaning!' 'We are up the crick without a piddle!'

I asked my friend how they sub-titled the policeman character*... he said they didn't bother. just did as ordinary dutch. (And most Dutch people can speak good enough English to get the joke anyway)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:57 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


This whole thread reminds me of the perverse joy I experienced when a Dutch friend told me (in English) "in Dutch we have a phrase", at which point he paused, gave it some careful thought, and translated slowly into English, " 'the pot calling the kettle black'. " Some concepts carry between languages almost too well.
posted by drnick at 7:13 AM on July 25, 2015 [21 favorites]


Interesting article, thanks! I had noticed a lot of other more "mainstream" sitcoms (Big Bang Theory, Friends, etc) are quite popular on German cable - BBT in particular seems to be on all the time.

I suppose it's a digression but It's just sad that the rest of the world gets to see our stuff if it wants, sometimes ad nauseam, but when we get a TV show from outside the U.S. it's almost inevitably in remake form, unless it's on PBS. And either way, almost all of those are from the UK. The remakes are usually markedly inferior as well, whether UK sourced or not. See The Slap, The Killing, etc.

This admittedly drives me nuts as well - why must shows always be done in the US as a remake? God forbid people watch something with subtitles.
posted by photo guy at 7:24 AM on July 25, 2015


You can watch all kinds of shows from other countries on Netflix and especially Hulu... After cutting the cable a few months ago, foreign TV is pretty much all we watch.
posted by Huck500 at 7:57 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


My father was translating the author Zoshchenko, a 1920s satirist who got in trouble for criticizing Soviet bureacracy, and was trying to get the right tone, since Zoshchenko's characters spoke in an unimaginable amalgam of rural, uneducated sarcastic streetwise slang. As a young man my father came to the US and learned English from Mad Magazine and "My Little Margie", so his translation was bound to be interesting, but he made the characters speak like characters out of Damon Runyan. He would try his versions out on us, and we thought they were hysterically funny, but we were his children after all and we learned *our* English from him. I'm happy to see his translations scattered on the internet!
posted by acrasis at 8:12 AM on July 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


And any article that disses Roseanne to praise Seinfeld knows nothing about comedy,

I just watched all 9 seasons of Roseanne in about 2 months (13 bucks for something like 40 dvds what a world we live in) and while I found it an amazing show and am still absolutely gobsmacked a lot of those episodes ever got on the air. I rarely laughed. I can't recall a joke that actually made me laugh. I watched it and appreciated it immensely, for me it's like comfort food TV, I was a teenager during the original run and watched reruns well into my 20s. But funny? Not really. It's far too real, the characters far too troubled. There can't be more than 2 or 3 pisodes where someone IS NOT screaming at someone else because of broken/depressed/stressed emotions coming up.

Seinfeld is the opposite, hollow, soulless characters who are rarely truly troubled and have ridiculous things happen to them. Ridiculous hilarious things.
posted by M Edward at 8:43 AM on July 25, 2015 [6 favorites]


"Mama" has quite posh connotations in England, for example, but not so in America.

Isn't the posh English version pronounced exactly like the French maman, stressed first syllable and all, such that one suspects this usage actually began as a French borrowing? To me it not only suggests the distance of someone who was in truth raised by a nanny and boarding schools, it actually seems to be a deliberate signifier for it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:47 AM on July 25, 2015


Isn't the posh English version pronounced exactly like the French maman, stressed first syllable and all

Actually, the English usage I had in mind would pronounce it more as "muh-mah", with the accent on the second syllable. You may well be right about the word having French roots, though.


After cutting the cable a few months ago, foreign TV is pretty much all we watch.


I know there's an awful lot of garbage on American TV (and on British TV too, believe me), but it's worth saying that America is also producing some of the best TV in the world right now. As a Brit viewing in London with a very basic cable service, my planner currently records 14 regular shows for me: eight American and six British.

The US shows are True Detective, Big Bang Theory, Last Week Tonight, UNreal, Veep, House of Lies, Murder in the First and (ahem) Family Guy. Next to the TV I have Region 2 DVD box sets of two Netflix shows (House of Cards and Orange is the New Black) waiting for me to get to them.

I'd defend these examples of American TV against any other country in the world's output - including my beloved BBC's. The Beeb's best attempt so far to compete with the scope of HBO's best shows, I think, has been Peaky Blinders, but I don't know whether that made any impact in the States of not.

Rupert Murdoch has been quite canny about this, recently launching a new cable channel over here to show the best of HBO, Showtime et al's output. By hosting shows like Mad Men and Broadwalk Empire, Sky Atlantic has let Murdoch reach those potential subscribers who simply don't care enough about sports to subscribe for that reason.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:11 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Actually, the English usage I had in mind would pronounce it more as "muh-mah", with the accent on the second syllable.

Argh. Yes, that's what I meant to say, but for some reason I got it backwards when describing it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:21 AM on July 25, 2015


I'd defend these examples of American TV against any other country in the world's output - including my beloved BBC's. The Beeb's best attempt so far to compete with the scope of HBO's best shows, I think, has been Peaky Blinders, but I don't know whether that made any impact in the States of not.

Absolutely... we watch some of those, but since they're currently running we fill in with foreign shows that are already concluded. Tellingly, most of those shows are produced by netflix or hbo, which have adopted philosophies similar to the BBC... give someone with vision some money and leave them alone. Even Family Guy was pretty much that.

I'd say Big Bang Theory is the only traditional network show in the list... unlikeable characters insulting each other with generic jokes and occasionally saying something nice to make it all better... but with a geek culture theme, which I guess is what makes it popular.

Peaky Blinders is awesome... that's on netflix in the US as well.
posted by Huck500 at 9:50 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd say Big Bang Theory is the only traditional network show in the list

The trouble with BBT is that it doesn't have jokes. It has references to things and a laugh track to make you think a joke has been made. Various demonstrations exist of what it's like without the laugh track. These are perhaps slightly unfair as the pacing is ruined by the silences -- these wouldn't be present in an amazing show that doesn't need a laugh track like 30 Rock. But the effect makes it hideously obvious that there aren't any actual jokes in these scenes, and then you watch the show and realize that that's not a misrepresentation, the show really is like that. But in fairness this is hardly new ... it's not like The Brady Bunch was comedy gold and certainly would have been harder going without a laugh track.

Back in the day, M*A*S*H ran in the UK without the laugh track, and reportedly on one occasion when the US cut was sent and broadcast by mistake, there were complaints. Seinfeld's laugh track is relatively muted and it has genuinely funny ideas. Still, the contrast with something like 30 Rock which was made without one and thus had to hit its mark on every joke is really striking.

(I'd also point out that House of Cards is a remake of a superb BBC series. A bloated, charmless and stultifying remake IMO but I may be in the minority in thinking so.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:20 AM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why would it be hard to make up a fake word that rhymes with a female body part? Is rhyming not a thing in Germany?
posted by Brocktoon at 10:41 AM on July 25, 2015


Made up names are not a thing in Germany. Seriously.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:50 AM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


(I'd also point out that House of Cards is a remake of a superb BBC series. A bloated, charmless and stultifying remake IMO but I may be in the minority in thinking so.)

Personally, I hated the British House of Cards, but have very much enjoyed the American one. All that arch stuff with Ian Richardson leering at the camera and the endless repetition of his bloody catch phrase irritated the hell out of me.
posted by Paul Slade at 11:08 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Beeb's best attempt so far to compete with the scope of HBO's best shows, I think, has been Peaky Blinders, but I don't know whether that made any impact in the States of not.

I'd say a moderate amount. A couple of my coworkers, who are mostly the kind of upper-middlebrows who watch a lot of Netflix and HBO shows of the equivalent tier, but are not about to sit down to watch Forbrydelsen or Engrenages or something, have talked about how good Peaky Blinders is. It hasn't had the level of pop-culture impact that, like, Downton Abbey did though.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:24 AM on July 25, 2015


Oh well if you're serious about it, I guess it must not be as ridiculous as it sounds. Personally I tend to give the German people more credit than that. It's a simple concept, I think they could probably figure it out pretty fast.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:27 AM on July 25, 2015


TFA addresses that point: a fabricated name would detract from the joke. Just because Jerry’s friends guessed "Bovary" as a legitimate name option in English didn’t mean she could throw any old name around in German.

Germany is one of a number of countries with laws governing what sort of legal name you can give a baby. A plot point involving a name guessing game which admitted anything you could make up would take people out of the story as they tried to figure out what they were talking about.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:43 AM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why would it be hard to make up a fake word that rhymes with a female body part?

The joke at the end of the episode isn't that he randomly made up a word that rhymes with a female body part, like "Mulva." The joke is that he suddenly realizes, too late, the exact real name it has to be.
posted by John Cohen at 12:06 PM on July 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am very intelligent and knew this all along. It is def not something I've just seen. (also Asterix being the 'star')

Omfg.

Yes, erm, me also.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:04 PM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I couldn't tell you why, but Seinfeld was really popular in Australia.* I was a kid when it was on and new episodes were always the talk of the school-yard. The finale was all anyone talked about that week. I'm sure many things were lost in translation -- both because we were kids and not American -- but now that I am an adult and live in New York, I don't find there are that many jokes I only get now (funnily enough, "Dolores" was one of them -- that name does not rhyme with "clitoris" in Australian English). When friends from home come to visit me, they all want to go to Tom's Diner and The Original Soup Man.

* eventually; the first network that picked it up played it late-night and ratings were bad, but then a different channel bought it and put it on at prime time and it was a hit (mind you, back then most people only have five channels to choose from, so we kind of watched whatever we were given).

Incidentally, I went to Parc Asterix in Paris last year, and French people I met there were shocked to learn about the English translations. They kept insisting I couldn't possibly get the jokes.
posted by retrograde at 4:33 PM on July 25, 2015


"Dolores" ... does not rhyme with "clitoris" in Australian English

Or in American English.
posted by John Cohen at 7:05 PM on July 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Or in American English.

Yeah, it's a funny thing - it never did rhyme, but I think this shows you how often anyone spoke the world "clitoris" out loud in the early 90s. Which was almost never. There was a legitimate confusion, at the time, as to whether it had a Latin-style pronunciation or the more American dactlyic version. I remember this being a bit confusing in my late-80s high school human sexuality class.
posted by Miko at 9:10 PM on July 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm struggling to remember the subtle reference to Jerry's uncle having been in a concentration camp. Could someone remind me?

That's a good point. I've seen all but one of the Seinfeld episodes, and this doesn't ring a bell. Googling doesn't turn up anything. I only remember references to Jerry's uncle and anti-Semitism in one episode, but it was just about Uncle Leo imagining that minor hassles were the result of anti-Semitism (micro-aggression!) — nothing about an actual concentration camp.
posted by John Cohen at 9:40 PM on July 25, 2015


I'd also point out that House of Cards is a remake of a superb BBC series. A bloated, charmless and stultifying remake IMO but I may be in the minority in thinking so.

You are wrong and you should feel bad. I love the original HOC more than I can say, and the US version is also amazing. I like to think of them as a forked branch from the same root as opposed to a remake.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:42 PM on July 25, 2015


Why would it be hard to make up a fake word that rhymes with a female body part? Is rhyming not a thing in Germany?

Actually, if you read the article, you'll see that she did came up with a solution. Uschi - Muschi ... arguably better than the original.
posted by sour cream at 3:06 AM on July 26, 2015


Uschi - Muschi ... arguably better than the original.

The problem with "Uschi/Muschi" is that Uschi is the one obvious name you would easily come up with under the constraints. (We had stupid schoolyard jokes about Uschi/Muschi, even years before Frühstyxradio and later Mario Barth sold T-Shirts with the slogan "Nichts reimt sich auf Uschi" -- "Nothing rhymes with Uschi".)

The fact that they never guessed the obvious name made watching the whole episode in German quite disappointing to me. (On the other hand, the Seinfeld translation is still better than many contemporary translations: For the Simpsons, they often translated puns literally, and you had to translate the German back into English to make sense of it.)
posted by erdferkel at 4:06 AM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, I thought the constraint was "rhymes with female body part", so you'd have to come up with the body part first, for which there are, well, maybe not hundreds but a handful of possibilities. But I didn't see the episode, so... So in the original, we know that it "rhymes with clitoris" and Seinfeld can't came up with "Dolores"? Huh, doesn't exactly strike me as uber-funny...
posted by sour cream at 5:06 AM on July 26, 2015


Huh, doesn't exactly strike me as uber-funny...

A lot of jokes won't strike you as funny after you've extensively analyzed them.
posted by John Cohen at 6:01 AM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, no, the constraint was "rhymes with a part of the female anatomy" (which is why they guessed names like "Bovary" or "Gipple" in the original), which makes guessing the correct solution really hard.

In the German translation, the body part is one of the obvious ones, the slang word is commonly used, and the rhyme is used in really old jokes; so the correct solution is the one really obvious choice that most people should be able to find really quickly.

Of course, one might consider the fact that Jerry and the others do not find this obvious solution more funny than the original; but I think that the structure of the joke is quite different in the two languages.
posted by erdferkel at 6:08 AM on July 26, 2015


Of course, one might consider the fact that Jerry and the others do not find this obvious solution more funny than the original; but I think that the structure of the joke is quite different in the two languages.

Questionable rhyming in English aside, I always thought this was the subtext, even if it was unintentional, because if they'd thought of the body part to begin with the name would be obvious, as Jerry proved in the end.

I went back and watched the episode and it turns out that Jerry only discusses the name with George. I think it would have been funnier if, instead of Jerry yelling out "Delores!" George and Elaine walk in just as Delores is storming out. George turns to Elaine and says, "Jerry couldn't remember her name; it rhymed with a part of the female anatomy." And Elaine says, matter-of-factly, "Delores?" But I don't think that's a script a man would write. Props to George for "Aretha" though!
posted by Room 641-A at 9:30 AM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's some interesting extra info on the episode's Wikipedia page.

Also, am I the only one who thinks of Mulva whenever this lady's surname is mentioned?
posted by Paul Slade at 9:50 AM on July 26, 2015


I'm glad I'm not the only one... Dolores? What the hell does that rhyme with?! (Eventually) Well I suppose if you pronounce it cli-toor-res.

See, I'd have gone with Regina*... (though I suppose Delores is a more common name... Despite It Not Properly Rhyming!)

*Jerry, you want a co-writer, I'm right here! Spread those millions around!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:21 AM on July 26, 2015


I'd have gone with Regina*.

It really only works for Canadians.
posted by Miko at 9:27 PM on July 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Or in American English.

While American culture might have settled on one option as the modern accepted pronunciation, if you'd asked your grandmother she would have likely given you the other. (Both are still listed in whatever dictionary you choose to consult, and wasn't the one that rhymes with Dolores totally dominant even in the 70s?)
posted by nobody at 4:03 AM on July 27, 2015


Maybe it was regional, but I grew up in the 70s and there was definitely a change in common pronunciation, at least in L.A. I'm reminded of it every time I hear the word "harassment" pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable, which is also relatively new-to-me. (Old enough to be a grandmother, not old enough to be your grandmother.)
posted by Room 641-A at 4:58 AM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of a different German GF, newly moved to the UK, who earnestly asked me why the English don't pronounce Immanual Kant's last name correctly. You can guess how she pronounced "Kant".
posted by w0mbat at 3:12 PM on July 27, 2015


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