Since I was a girl and read Bennett Cerf’s Book of Riddles alongside my grandmother Mimi, I’ve enjoyed all sorts of jokes involving wordplay. For example, poised between a chuckle and a groan is “Why do birds fly south?” Answer: “It’s too far to walk.” Today at the library I checked out Witzbuch für Kinder, a collection which contains jokes of a similar nature in German. I found myself taken back in time, and like poetry, I think the economy of language in jokes gives you a special insight to real-world or everyday word use (die Alltagssprache).
WARNING/VORSICHT! You may want to read the examples below in private just in case you let out a loud guffaw (eine Lachsalve or in ein Gelächter ausbrechen – “to erupt in laughter” – or wiehern – ” to bray with laughter” – or gackernd lachen – “to cackle” – or schallendes Gelächter – “peals of laugher”) and then have to explain yourself by telling one of these jokes…
Zwei Flöhe kommen aus dem Kino. Es regnet in Strömen. Was meinst du? fragt der eine Floh. Springen wir zu Fuß, oder nehmen wir uns einen Hund?
Two fleas come out of cinema. It’s pouring rain. “What do you reckon?,” asks the one flea. “Should we walk home (literally jump or leap by foot) or should we take a dog?”
Zwei Spatzen sitzen auf der Fernsehantenne. Sie schluchzt herzerweichend. Er versucht, sie zu beruhigen. Vergeblich. Schließlich schreit er ganz verzweifelt: «Nun glaub mir doch endlich! Ich bin nicht verheiratet. Der Ring ist von der Vogelwarte.»
Two sparrows are sitting on a TV antenna (hmm, a bit dated, that). She is sobbing inconsolably. He is trying to calm her down but in vain. Finally he cries out in despair: “You have to believe me! I’m not married. The ring is from The Audubon Society” (or The European Union for Bird Ringing).
While das Rätsel seems to be the most common translation for “riddle,” I prefer die Scherzfrage – “the question joke” or perhaps “the joke question.” Now hold onto your hats, because here’s my attempt to have a bit of fun by creating a “question joke” in German.
Sf: Wo findet man die Deutschsprachigen Leute?
A: Meisten sind unter dem demselben D-A-CH.
Qj: Where do you find the German-speaking people?
A: Most are under the same roof.
For this to have a chance of being funny you need to know that the word for “roof” is das Dach and that the abbreviations for the three major German-speaking countries are Deutschland, Austria and Confoederatio Helvetica (Switzerland). Therefore while coming up with this pleased me to no end, I’m not going to be outselling Mr. Cerf anytime soon!
In scanning sites for riddles, I found a page with some attributed to The Riddler of Batman fame (http://www.comicvine.com/profile/notoriousbcb/blog/riddle-me-this-riddle-me-that-vintage-riddler-ridd/65642/). My favorite was this one:
There are three men in a boat with four cigarettes but no matches. How do they manage to smoke?
They throw one cigarette overboard and made the boat a cigarette lighter!
And I also couldn’t help laughing at this Scherzfrage from a German-language site (http://www.onlinewahn.de/sfragen.htm):
Warum trinken Mäuse keinen Alkohol?
Weil sie Angst vor’m Kater haben.