Sex joke

– Come on, Apostolis,
tell me what sex is!

– I’ve already told you that when you pronounce the S correctly,
I’ll tell you what sex is!

– Why are you hung up on the S?
There are so many other letters!…
Well, I’ll pronounce
an other letter correctly
and you’ll tell me what sex is!… Okay?…


– You either have
a tremendous instinct
or you’re making fun of us all!

The Greek cartoonist Arkàs has created a series whose protagonist is a kid having difficulties in pronouncing the S. Right here a little problem arises: in the original version the S is replaced with the Greek letter Θ, a letter that doesn’t exist in the English alphabet. However, we could easily replace the R with the L, a fact that English people are used to attributing to Chinese speakers. In this way substitution would take place: if an element gets lost in the translation process, it can be found elsewhere.

Far more tricky is the translation of the word highlighted in bold. This is the key word that triggers the reader’s laughter. “Γάμα” is the name of the Greek letter Γ (gamma), but it also means “fuck”. If we decided to include the latter meaning, the allusion to the Greek letter and consequently the correspondence to the alphabet would get lost. Instead, if we decided to put any other letter, the damage would be much bigger, since the punchline and the joke’s sense itself would be completely removed. Hence, this is a case where translators are at a crossroads, as they have to choose which of the two pieces of information to convey, even though the laughter’s trigger effect is compromised anyway.


Humour is one of translation’s most complex fields. Think about puns or culture-bound elements (i.e. specific to a language and a culture). Both of them are very difficult to convey to another language. For this reason there are different strategies to translate them, depending on each case.

In order to show these difficulties, I have an account on Instagram (@zanessis_traduzioni) where I publish my Italian translated version of different jokes. However, there are jokes that cannot be translated because in the transposition into English some important elements get lost, therefore cancelling the comic effect. So in this area I want to illustrate some of the cases in which this happens in order to better understand where translation difficulties may arise.