Tag Archives: jokes

Frightfully funny?

Today I saw an ad for Subway’s flatbread sandwiches which reads:

Einflach LeckerProbier jetzt dein Lieblings-Sub als frisch belegtes Flatbread
Delicious! Now try your favorite sub as a freshly topped flatbread”

Einflach Lecker - Subway

Einflach Lecker – Subway

The asterisks designate the fact that einflach is not a real German word, it is a play on two of them: einfach and flach, “simply” and “flat.” A parallel construction in English would be something like “Shrimply Delicious” – a play on “simply” and “shrimp.”

It is simply wonderful to know enough German to appreciate words at play and reminds me of a joke (which I told at a Halloween party) that relies on you knowing the grammatical cases German uses:

»Weißt du, wie die drei Geschwister des Werewolfs heißen?«
»Nein, wie denn?«
»Da wärst du nie drauf gekommen: Sie heißen Weswolf, Wemwolf und Wenwolf…«

“Do you know the names of the Werewolf’s three siblings?”
“No, what are they?”
“Your never gonna guess! They are called Genitive-Who Wolf, Dative-Who Wolf and Accusative-Who Wolf…”

For this to even get off the ground, you need to know that wer is the German word for “who” in the nominative case, and that it is inflected in the other three cases to become weswem and wen. You also know from the order in which the names are given – nominative, genitive, dative, accusative – that this joke is not brand new as the cases are now more commonly ordered nominative, accusative, dative and genitive, perhaps reflecting the increasingly rare use of the genitive forms.

I hope this makes the case, once again, for German humor making ample use of wordplay.

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Did you get it?!

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!

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