LOST (and FOUND) in TRANSLATION #004 – “OYAJI GAG”

Posted on Posted in LOST AND FOUND

Different cultures have different senses of humour. And often, humour doesn’t translate very well. A joke or expression that’s witty in your language might fall completely flat when translated into another. This is of course a big problem for translators! (And one that makes me appreciate Silent Manga even more!) Today, I’m going to be introducing a word that will shine some light on the Japanese sense of humour.

Today’s word: 親父ギャグ (oyaji gyagu)

This is made up of two words. Oyaji can mean “father” or “old man”. Gyagu comes from the English word gag. Put together, it refers to a kind of corny joke, usually told by middle aged men in Japan (though of course, young people can tell them as well!)

To understand the nature of an oyaji gag, you need to first understand something about Japanese. In Japanese, there are a lot of homophones – words that sound the same but have different meanings. When writing, different kanji (Chinese characters) are used, so they’re easy to tell apart. However, when speaking, you just have to interpret the meaning based on the situation. As such, puns and word play tend to make up a large portion of Japanese humor. When manga is translated, these puns are often lost, since there’s seldom an equivalent joke in English that will fit the situation.

However, oyaji gags are not brilliant puns… they’re very cheap ones. They’re the kind of joke that make you cringe or roll your eyes rather than laugh.

Here are a few examples. I’m going to write them in the English alphabet so you can see where the joke is:

Shinrou no shinrou (A bridegroom’s anxiety) –> both “bridegroom” and “anxiety” are shinrou.

Nyuuyouku de nyuuyoku (taking a bath in New York) –> “Nyuuyoku” means to “get in the bath” and sounds similar to the Japanese pronunciation of New York.

Mushi ha mushi (I ignore insects) –> both “insects” and “ignore” are mushi

LFT_004 oyagi

As you can imagine, young Japanese people are often put in the awkward position of wondering whether or not they should laugh to be polite…

 

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