Treatment of Puns and Word Play in Translating Harry
Ron Weasley, Lavender Brown, and Uranus
At Chapter 13 in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Lavender Brown squeals excitedly:
'Oh, Professor, look! I think I've got an unaspected planet! Oooh, which one's that, Professor?'
Professor Trelawney peers down at her chart and says:
'It is Uranus, my dear.'
Unable to resist the opportunity, Ron pipes up:
'Can I have a look at Uranus, too, Lavender?'
Professor Trelawney is less than amused at Ron's little comment, and it is this, perhaps, what makes her give them a large amount of homework at the end of class.
The reason for Professor Trelawney's displeasure is clear only if you understand that Ron's seemingly innocent request conceals a vulgar schoolboy joke. As any English-speaking schoolchild knows, 'Uranus' is pronounced exactly the same as 'your anus'.
Like some of Rowling's more sophisticated puns, this exploits the fact that two different expressions have similar pronunciations. This is difficult to convey in foreign languages because the equivalent expressions are unlikely to have identical pronunciations.
So how do the translators fare?
1. "Shì Tiān-wáng-xīng, qīn-aì de."
2. "Kěyǐ bǎ Tiānwáng-xīng yě ràng wǒ kàn yī-yǎn ma, Lāwéndé?"
1. It's Uranus, dear one.
2. Can you also give me a look at Uranus, Lavender?
This translation completely bypasses the pun. Tiānwáng-xīng (literally the 'Heavenly King Star') is in no way related to the Chinese word for 'anus' or any other vulgar or witty expression.
1. "Zhè shì Tiā-wáng-xīng, qīn-aì de."
2. "Na néng bù néng ràng wǒ yě jiànshi yī-xià nà-kē Tiān-wáng-xīng yā, Wéndá?"
1. This is Uranus, dear one.
2. Well, can you let me also widen my knowledge of that Uranus a bit, Lavender?
This translation also bypasses the pun. The only concession to the English is the rather roundabout way that Ron asks to have a look at Uranus. While hinting at mischievous intent, it doesn't in any way intimate the vulgar suggestion implied by the English.
1. "Meiōsei, saikōbi no wakusei desu wa"
2. "Donketsu no hoshi ka..... Rabendā, boku ni kimi no donketsu, chotto misete kureru?"
1. It's Pluto, the tail-end planet.
2. Aah, the planet bringing up the rear. Lavender, can you let me have a look at your rear?
The Japanese translator has gone out of her way to accommodate the pun.
- First, she substitutes 'Pluto' for 'Uranus'.
- She then has Professor Trelawney describe Pluto as the saikōbi planet. Saikōbi literally means 'most back tail' and is used for items at the very end of a line, etc.
- This gives Ron the opportunity to substitute the word don-ketsu, a rather colloquial expression meaning 'the lowest ranking, the last'.
- Since don-ketsu also means 'arse', Ron proceeds to ask if he can look at Lavender's don-ketsu.
Just in case the pun is missed, the Japanese translator draws attention to ketsu, also by itself meaning 'arse', by putting emphasis marks (two dots) above it. To drive the point home even further, the next sentence points out that 'Ron's vulgar wordplay unfortunately reached the ears of Professor Trelawney'.
While both in-your-face and forced, this translation at least conveys the intent of the original and why Ron's remark incurred Professor Trelawney's displeasure.
1. That's the planet Uranus, my dear.
2. Can you give me a peep at the planet Uranus?
The Vietnamese also bypasses the pun. Rather mysteriously, the translator uses the borrowed word rather than the Vietnamese name for the planet, which is . This is even more surprising given that a reference to Neptune on the page before is correctly translated as .
Of the four translations, only the Japanese makes an attempt to render the pun in the English. The others quietly pass the matter by, leaving the reader slightly puzzled over Professor Trelawney's frosty attitude.
Although somewhat marred by being so forced, the Japanese rendition is quite ingenious.