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Off topic: Jokes with punch lines that enter the language
Thread poster: Jack Doughty

Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:55
Member (2000)
Russian to English
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Jul 10, 2003

As a result of my not understanding a peer grade to a KudoZ answer of mine, Yuri Smirnov and I had an exchange of jokes. His grade said: “If Jack says to the morgue, then it’s to the morgue.” He explained:

There is a Russian anecdote.
The aides (or whoever there is at the hospital) are taking a man's body to the morgue. Then all of a sudden he sits up and asks where they are taking him. They say.
He protests: "But I am alive!"
And they say: "The doctor said: to the morgue, that means we'll take you to the morgue. Period."

I meant to say: if Jack said so, no arguing. Jack knows better, whatever we may fancy.

OK, so now I know what that means. I thought of something similar:

A drill sergeant is taking a class on how to give drill instruction. A
nervous soldier is giving the commands. The parade ground is on the edge of
a cliff, and the squad is marching towards it. The soldier gets flustered,
can't think of the command "Halt!" or "About turn!" and says nothing.
The drill sergeant yells: "For Christ's sake say something, even if it's
only goodbye!!!"

This is similar, in that people will understand the punch line without the joke. For example, if a politician in trouble is being besieged by
reporters, and will only say "No comment", someone might call out "For
Christ's sake say something, even if it's only goodbye!" and everyone will
understand the allusion.

Another example from English is the expression “shaggy dog story”. This is based on a joke, which I won’t tell in full, about someone who is asked to find a friend’s lost shaggy dog. He goes all round the world, has numerous adventures, finally finds a shaggy dog and brings it back, only to be told: “Not that shaggy dog!” There is no point to this joke except that it has no point. You are led to expect a dramatic conclusion which never comes. So “a shaggy dog story” has come to mean any long, rambling, pointless story which is just silly and boring.

Then there is “as the actress said to the bishop” or “as the bishop said to the actress”.
I think this must have originated as a joke long ago, but I have no idea what the joke was.
This phrase is now used in either form, as appropriate, to make a perfectly innocent remark sound suggestive. E.g., if you and a friend are approaching a pub with different bars with entrances at the front and back respectively, you might say: “Do you want to go in the front or the back?” And he might reply: “As the actress said to the bishop”.

This can lead to problems in translation, particularly for interpreters, who, if they don’t understand the reference, have no time for lengthy research and have to have a stab at it, possibly with ludicrous or disastrous results.

I’m sure that there must be other jokes in other languages, from which the punch line has passed into the language and can now be used on its own.

All contributions gratefully received.

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xxxCHENOUMI  Identity Verified
English to French
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Sa Kasayòl te di bèf la... Jul 10, 2003

Then there is “as the actress said to the bishop” or “as the bishop said to the actress”.

Hi Jack,

Great post as usual! I can immediately relate to that in Creole.
Sometimes, when two people are having a conversation, one may abruptly say to the other: " M' va di ou sa Kasayòl te di bèf la, wi." (I'll tell you what Cassagnol said to the beef.) [ "wi" is "yes" said emphatically, but not necessary in the translation.]

No one ever knew what "Sir" Cassagnol "told" the beef... (at least, my generation doesn't), nor does anyone know if Cassagnol really existed.
The sentence is usually said jokingly to silence the other person or to signal that the speaker might be getting annoyed...or fed up with the other's persistent demand...

P.S. It's assumed that what Cassagnol said might be a bad and/or curse word...but the sentence has entered the language as a punch line and is meant and taken as a joke.

[Edited at 2003-07-10 10:34]

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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:55
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Russian to English
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The white bull and the priest's dog Jul 10, 2003

Just had an email from Kirill Semenov, as follows (I have transliterated his Cyrillic):
I've just thought it may be interesting for you that in Russian we
have two equivalents for "shaggy dog story": "skazka pro belogo bychka" (The Tale of the White Bull) and "u popa byla sobaka" (a priest had a dog). Both expressions are pretty old. I do not know where the first one comes from, but the second is based on a verse:

U popa byla sobaka, on yevo lyubil.
Ona syela kusok myasa, On yeyo ubil.
V zemlyu zakopal,
I na mogile napisal:
"U popa byla sobaka, on yevo lyubil..."

and so on, as a recursive repetition.

Sent as an email because did not want to write all this in Russian on a
general forum.

So I thought I’d try to translate the verse. It goes something like this:

A priest once had a little dog.
He loved it like a son.
The bad dog stole a piece of meat.
“Oh, dog! What have you done?”
The priest then put his dog to death,
Though tears for him he shed,
And on his tomb he wrote some words,
And this is what they said:

“A priest once had a little dog…”

and so on, as a recursive repetition.

Come to think of it, "The Tale of the White Bull" reminds me of the English expression "a cock and bull story", meaning a story which is quite unbelievable. I suppose this may originally have come from a joke too.

And for a recursive repetition, in English we have "There's a Hole in my Bucket"; see

[Edited at 2003-07-10 07:31]

[Edited at 2003-07-10 08:45]

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Kirill Semenov  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:55
Member (2004)
English to Russian
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Punch lines in Russian culture Jul 10, 2003

First of all, I want to thank Jack Doughty
for opening such an exciting thread. I am not even sure if this is an off-topic, since I think we all have faced problems with
some puzzling expressions in our source languages.

And I just wonder if there is another country where punch lines from well-known jokes are more popular and abundant than in the former USSR. We use thousands of them!

On my opinion, the main reason is that during the years of Soviet Union people here were afraid to speak their thoughts aloud, so they had to resort to `Aesopian language' -- and popular jokes were (and still are) the best and most favourite way to do this.

I think it will not be an exaggeration to say that telling jokes to each other is a part of our culture now. It's a rare day when you do not hear a new joke from your friends or just when you are outside, in a bus or simply walking along a street, and unintentionally hear other people's conversations.

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Patricia CASEY  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:55
English to Spanish
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That reminds me... Jul 10, 2003

of an expression we use in Spanish when something has no end and no beginning, it's "El cuento de la buena pipa" (The tale of the good pip), meaning "the never-ending story".

The tale goes like this:

The adult says to the little kid: "Would you like to hear the tale of the good pip?"

The kid happily answers: "Yes"

Adult: "But I haven't told you to say yes, I've asked you if you would like to hear the tale of the good pip"

Kid (doubtful): "No"

Adult: Let me see... I did not say yes or no, I just want to know if you would like to hear the tale of the good pip"

And so on.

This tale always brings to my mind some politicians' names and money-lending organisations... but that is ANOTHER STORY.

[Edited at 2003-07-10 12:12]

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John Bowden  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:55
German to English
Good topic, Jack! Jul 10, 2003

I can think of two examples in German - the first one isn't actually a joke, but still..

1. "Same procedure as every year"
This is a repeated phrase from "Dinner for One", the 1963 sketch with Freddie Frinton and May Warden, which is shown in Germany and other countries every New Year's Eve. Manyof my German friends automatically say this e.g. when you ask them where they're going on holiday: "Wir fahren in die Türkei - same procedure as every year", i.e. "we always go to the same place". There can't be many Germans who haven't seen the sketch, but still, it's not directly alluded to.

2. "Hattu Möhren?"
This was a schoolkids' joke, very popular since the 80's at least, about a hare who keeps going in to a church and asking the priest "Hattu Möhren?" (Have you got any carrots?". The priest is annoyed and says, "Of course I haven't, this is a church - clear off and don't come back" The hare keeps coming back every day until finally the priest says "If you come in her again, I'll nail you to the wall by your ears - get lost". On his way home the hare sees a crucifix outside the church and says to the Christ figure "Hattu auch nach Möhren gefragt" - "Did you ask for carrots as well?"

The phrase "Hattu Möhren" is often used, without reference to the joke, for any reference to rabbits/hares etc - for example, this link is a newspaper article about coypu:,

and in this one somebody has used it as a caption for photos of his son eating a carrot:

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Michele Johnson  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:55
German to English
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This one goes to eleven... Jul 11, 2003

The reference to "same procedure as last year" reminded me of another cult movie, Spinal Tap, and especially of the famous punch line "This one goes to eleven" (among many, many others).

If you don't know the movie, it's a hilarious "rockumentary" spoof on a British heavy metal band. In one scene, they explain how great it is that that they have an amp that goes to 11, not just the usual 10, because "eleven is one louder, isn't it?" It's funny because the guys aren't too bright, heavy metal music is always played loud, bigger/louder/more is always better, etc.

You can say "This one goes to eleven" (with a British accent) as an interjection, for instance, when someone is showing off anything fancy and technical, or to imply ironically that bigger/more isn't necessarily better, or when you don't necessarily understand something technical but are nonetheless impressed:

Bob: "Hey, check out the double-ported LJ508 precision-throttle titanium-coated venturi carburetors!"

Joe: "Yeah, this one goes to eleven."

I mention this because I just noticed that even the Merriam-Webster dictionary site makes reference to it:
("We go to eleven!", announcing the availability of the new updated 11th edition)


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:55
Member (2000)
Russian to English
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Actress, bishop and other matters Jul 11, 2003

Found a few “actress and bishop” jokes on the Web.
"God, that's small".."as the Actress said to the Bishop. "
"Put it down".."as the Actress said to the Bishop. "
"Have you got something longer?".."as the Actress said to the Bishop."
"Help me get it up?".."as the Actress said to the Bishop."
"I bet you liked that!".."as the Actress said to the Bishop."
"Take that off!".."as the Actress said to the Bishop."

[ A BISHOP went for a night out at a lap-dancing club - then complained the girls weren't sexy enough. ]
As the actress said to the bishop, "Come here often?"

Two men will be on a street comer, fixing some pipes. "You'll never fit that in there, one will say". "Said the actress to the bishop," says the other.

Two men will be fishing. One will catch a fish. "That's a big 'un," one will say. "Said the actress to the Bishop," says the other.

The joke becomes funnier if the first line has no possible "saucy" connotations. "Pass me that three-quarter inch spanner with the beveled handle." "Said the actress to the bishop."

From a Russian website (switch View Encoding to Cyrillic Windows to read the original)
Èíîãäà, âïðî÷åì, àìåðèêàíöû ìîãóò ñäåëàòü èç ñàìîé îáû÷íîé íåâèííîé ôðàçû ôðàçó íåîáû÷íóþ è âèííóþ. Ìû ñ âàìè äëÿ ýòîãî ïîëüçóåìñÿ ëèáî ñàëüíîé óëûáêîé è ïîøëûì ñìåøêîì: "Ó âàñ åñòü ÷òî-íèáóäü ïîäëèííåå...õè-õè!", ëèáî äîáàâëÿåì:"Ïîíèìàåøü íà ÷òî íàìåêàþ?" èëè "Ýòî òû â êàêîì ñìûñëå?" Àìåðèêàíöû è àíãëè÷àíå äîáàâëÿþò: 'as the actress said to the bishop' - "êàê ãîâîðèëà àêòðèñà åïèñêîïó". Àêòðèñîé â ñòàðîé äîáðîé Àíãëèè íàçûâàëè ïðåäñòàâèòåëüíèöó ñàìîé äðåâíåé è âûñîêîîïëà÷èâàåìîé ïðîôåññèè. Ñàìè ïîíèìàåòå, êàêèå òàêèå ðàçãîâîðû îíà âåëà ñ åïèñêîïîì. Âîò ïðèìåðû èñïîëüçîâàíèÿ ýòîé ïðèãîâîðêè: à) Put it down... as the actress said to the bishop. b) Help me get it up... as the actress said to the bishop. c) Be on the actress said to the bishop. Òàê ÷òî, ñòîèò âîñïðèíèìàòü íåêîòîðûå àíãëèéñêèå èäèîìû ãîëîâîé, à íå äðóãèìè ÷àñòÿìè òåëà.  êîíöå êîíöîâ, àíãëèéñêàÿ àêòðèñà óñïåëà íàøåïòàòü åïèñêîïó íå òàê óæ ìíîãî. Ó íåå ïðîñòî íå áûëî íà ýòî âðåìåíè, âåäü åïèñêîï áûë òàê ìîëîä.

Translation (my own comments in square brackets)

By the way, the Americans can sometimes make the most commonplace and innocent phrase sound far from commonplace and innocent. [Americans? This is widely known in the UK but not so widely in the USA, though no doubt some people there will understand it.] For this, we just use a leer and a dirty laugh or a more obvious comment. “Have you got something longer?" "Ha, ha!" - or add “Know what I mean?” or “In what sense?” The Americans and British add: “As the actress said to the bishop”. In good old England, members of the oldest and highest-paid profession were called actresses [probably true, but it’s not used nowadays. Christine Keeler was called “a model”.] (a) Put it down…as the actress said to the bishop. (b) Help me get it up…as the actress said to the bishop. (c) Be on time…as the actress said to the bishop. So you ought to use your head, not any other part of the anatomy, to take certain English idioms in the right way. After all, the English actress didn’t have time to whisper much to the bishop, the bishop being so young and all…

To Jown Bowden:

You may be interested to know that the Russians have a film which is traditionally shown on New Year's Eve. It is called "S lyogkim parom" - literally "With light steam", a phrase connected with saunas, Turkish baths, etc. I think it means, as we would say in English, "With a pinch of salt", but I'm not too sure about that. Anyway, it is about a young man who passes out drunk at a New Year's Eve party in Moscow. His companions are all pretty drunk too. They know that one of them has to fly to Leningrad that night and think - wrongly - that it is the one who has passed out. They bundle him onto a plane to Leningrad. There, he stumbles into a taxi, gives his address, which is the sort you could find in any town in the Soviet Union: Lenin Square, Block 2, or something like that - gets there, gets into the flat (his key fits the lock) and passes out again, to be confronted next morning by the Leningrad girl who is the actual tenant. The sort of romantic comedy you might expect then ensues. The film is partly a commentary on the dreary uniformity of Soviet town planning. I don't know if any phrases from it have passed into the language, maybe a Russian colleague could tell us.

To Michele Johnson:
Another example from a classic film is "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" - said to someone who applies vastly excessive force or resources to a job ("using a sledgehammer to crack a nut") with disastrous results. Comes from "The Italian Job", in which it is said by Michael Caine to the incompetent explosives "expert" of his criminal team, who is practising blowing the doors off a security van but in fact blows the van sky-high.

[Edited at 2003-07-11 12:30]

[Edited at 2003-07-11 13:18]

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Ildiko Santana  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:55
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English to Hungarian
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a variation Jul 12, 2003

A priest once had a little dog....

How fascinating posts Jack and all, thank you!
And I was quite amazed to see the Russian/English version of a childhood song I've heard ever so often from my late father; there's similarities and differences, but one can still identify the same concept!
Here it goes, in Hungarian:

"Egy kutya a konyhába'
A kolbászt ellopta.
A szakács haragjába'
Egy késsel leszúrta.
És jöttek a többi kutyák*
Hogy eltemessék õt,
S a sírjára ráírták
Az itt következõt:
'Egy kutya a konyhába'....'"

I'll try to send in the English translation, when I have time.

P.S. Since this thread is about "Jokes with punchlines that enter the language," allow me to share my ever favorite (Americans, please don't get offended!)

If you call a person who speaks 3 languages a tri-lingual, and you call a person who speaks 2 languages a bi-lingual - what do you call a person who speaks 1 language?



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John Bowden  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:55
German to English
If we're including films etc as well as jokes.... Jul 15, 2003

probably the best example in English is "nudge nudge, wink wink", said to indicate a slightly risque, smutty comment or situation (fits well with Jack's actress and bishop examples...). Many people don't realize this phrase was coined by Eric Idle in an old Monty Python sketch, where he plays a sleazy, sex-mad character in a pub trying to get Terry Jones to reveal intimate detials about his wife ("Is she a goer? Know what I mean? Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more!") This is used by people who've never seen the sketch - and even those who know it's from Python often foget the "real" punchline of the sketch - having pestered Terry Jones without success for sleazy details, the Eric Idle character finally says something like "You're a man of the world - have you ever 'had it'?" "Yes, of course" says Jones. "What's it like?", ask the hapless Idle...

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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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We could branch out into hymns, too Jul 17, 2003

"Tell me the old old story", said to someone who is telling you something you have heard many times before, is from a hymn: the chorus starts: "Tell me the old old story of Jesus and his love".
"Why was he born so beautiful? Why was he born at all?", again originally referring to Jesus in a hymn, is now said mockingly to someone who is considered to be "getting too big for his boots".

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Terry Gilman  Identity Verified
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German to English
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Hopeless, but not serious Jul 24, 2003

The above is the punchline from a story about Prussian and Austrian attitudes. Battle between the two armies is raging. The Prussian General asks the Prussian officer to report on the situation at the front. His reply: The situation is serious, but not hopeless ("Die Lage ist ernst, aber nicht hoffnungslos"). Behind the Austrian front,... well - see above. If I can find a source, I'll add it here.

I hear "hoffnungslos, aber nicht ernst" (and tend to say it) about once a week.

So, a quick Google revealed only that it
is associated with Field Marshal Josef
Radetzky, but didn't turn up the story.

Thank you very much, Jack, for starting and all of you for posting in this great thread.

[Edited at 2003-07-24 11:28]

[Edited at 2003-07-24 11:52]

[Edited at 2003-07-24 11:53]

[Edited at 2003-07-24 11:56]

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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
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The Good Soldier Svejk Jul 25, 2003

Talking of the Austrian Army, surely there must be a few in Czech from "The Good Soldier Svejk" by Jaroslav Hasek? I don't know Czech but I read it first in German (Der Brave Soldat Svejk)and later bought it in English. It is full of deadpan humour. The only phrase I can remember (from the German version) is "Die Fliege haben auf ihn beschissen!", referring to a tatty portrait of the Emperor Franz Josef on a wall in a bar. This was overheard and landed him in prison.

31.07.03 My memory was at fault. I have just started re-reading "The Good Soldier Svejk", and it turns out that it was the innkeeper Pavilec who went to prison for saying "Die Fliege haben auf ihn beschissen!"

[Edited at 2003-07-31 22:19]

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