We're currently translating chapter 11 into German. It's going along fine, but 


is still puzzling us. No dictionary entries, no HPMoR-unrelated search hits, nothing…

Is this some kind of dadaist joke by Eliezer? Or are we missing something?

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(Things like this should probably go to reddit's /r/hpmor...)

It was originally a reader suggestion by DarkHeart81 in a review on Ch. 11:

Some interesting stuff in this. Though the sorting hat yell out something totally random like 'Pickled stew berry!' or 'Khan!' like in Star Trek II. Or... Well there's a lot of stuff the hat could have yelled out. lol

So it's meant to be 'totally random'.

Many of the jokes are constructed as twists on the Sorting Hat's "House X" pattern, and common food items prepared at home are called "House X". For instance "House Pickled Strawberries" prepared in a jar with a sweet brine. "Stewberries" is a corruption of "strawberries". (There's one blog out there suggesting it may have something to do with Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, but I think it more likely that it's meant to be the way a very young child would pronounce "strawberries".)

Another possibility I saw, though it probably wasn't intended, is that both pickled and stewed are slang for drunk; maybe they are really powerful fruits.

How did you handle the IHOP joke a few lines above the stewberries?


Since IHOP is mostly unknown in German-speaking countries, I think it's best if we drop that line from the translation. (We could leave it in there and explain it, but explaining jokes is usually not a good idea…)

best if we drop that line

Please don't. See my comments elsewhere. A translator has no business making alterations to the original work.

I feel very strongly about this, because I have huge amounts of experience reading bad translations of Sci-Fi authors to French, to the point that at an early age I taught myself English out of the originals just so I could enjoy non-sabotaged versions of these works I loved so much.


I see your point, agree in principle and definitely feel the same way about the main work. In this special case, though, I'd like to point out that this does not concern the main work, that it is a minimal alteration, and that it would actually be a tiny improvement from the point of view of most readers (who would otherwise be confused by a joke which they can't understand due to cultural reasons.) Note that I agree that it would objectively be a deterioration of the whole work – our disagreement simply concerns the question, how (or whether) one should weigh up objective quality vs. subjective impression of readers.

That being said, I just thought of a way to explain the joke without being too “in-your-face” about it: Just leave “PANCAKES!” in the text, the way it is, and add something like “So … that were references to politics, American restaurant chains, Dune and Star Trek.” after the end of the chapter. (Each including the appropriate Wikipedia link.) How do you feel about this option?

I think I would much prefer a translation which found some equivalent of the "House X" construction, and used that consistently to translate the "pancake", "pickled" etc. jokes - even if it ended up using something other than literally pancakes and fruit preserves.

So for instance "Haus der Wirtschaft" and "Haus des Lehrers" would yield non-slavish equivalents but a German reader might recognize both of them as being names of well-known (?) landmarks in German towns. It is this sense of familiarity that constitutes the essence of the joke, I'd argue. I'm not saying this is an ideal translation, just trying to come up with at least one example which strikes me as better than dropping the line or leaving the original English in.


We finally went with “Lebkuchenhaus“ – the German word for gingerbread house – instead of IHOP. (Which is an ideal translation imho – I just didn't think of it … Luckily, a friend of mine suggested it immediately after I asked her!)

Thanks for your comments; they made sure I always had the motivation I needed to care about these tiny details.

I feel very strongly about this, because I have huge amounts of experience reading bad translations of Sci-Fi authors to French, to the point that at an early age I taught myself English out of the originals just so I could enjoy non-sabotaged versions of these works I loved so much.

So in other words... those translators made your life much better?

Two answers occur. Pick whichever suits you:

  • Yeah; ironic, isn't it?
  • No - I made my life much better.

Just come up with your own jokes. Puns don't translate well.

That's why translating them is fun! Coming up with your own is giving up - intellectual laziness.

Everyone who translates for serious purposes (and HPMoR would belong in that category IMO) needs to have read Hofstadter's Le Ton Beau de Marot. He discusses the issues involved at length and with his usual wit and insight.

The point is not to show off how clever you are, it's to make the best possible finished product. The people who need the translation aren't going to be checking how close the jokes are to the original material. They're going to care how funny the jokes are.

ADBOC. The point, when you are a translator, is to translate. The criterion for "best" includes how close the translation is to the original. And cleverness is something that you brought up out of the blue, a non sequitur in the context - I reject (and resent) the implication that I approve of showing off.

Someone whose book I translated once told me: "It's my name that will be on the cover, so your job is to write what I would have written if I'd been French." Another way to say this is: if all you care about is how funny the jokes are, write your own damn jokes (pardon my French).

That doesn't mean that a translation of "PICKLED STEWBERRIES" must necessarily refer to pickling, strawberries, stew, and so on. But it should be funny (or unfunny) for the "same" reasons as the original was, for some value of "same". In particular it seems essential that the "House X" dual meaning should be preserved.

Which means it's not this one joke that should be considered when translating, but also the other jokes that rely on the dual meaning: "pancakes", "atreid", "representatives" and "elf". (Ideally the translation should also render the "clack" that arises from the "KHAAANNNN" joke which breaks the pattern.) Whatever the two German equivalents of "House X" are, they should be used uniformly over these jokes.

Refusing to go to these lengths may not necessarily result in an incomprehensible translation, or one that fans would reject. But it would result in a poor quality translation, and I think that's somewhat insulting to the author. (It's both a tragedy and a mercy that most authors probably never realize how much their work is sabotaged in translation, because they don't know the target language well enough.)

And its also insulting to "the people who need the translation" for symmetrical reasons. If their grasp of the source language was good enough they wouldn't need one, but because it isn't they are often unable to assess the quality of the translation. All they can tell is that something is off, that a string of jokes for instance reads as inconsistent and nonsensical. Sometimes (especially when the work is greatly renowned) this is eventually discovered and to the great embarrassment of the original publisher, a new and better translation is undertaken. For instance the French are to this day saddled with Frenchified versions of some proper names in Tolkien's work, that many of us find jarring.

My apologies. I had understood your previous comments to mean that you did insist on a joke referring to pickling, strawberries, stew, and so on. And what I wanted to get across in my own replies was that it's more important that the "House X" humor be preserved. That being the case, I think we agree, even though it's really really hard not to go through your post and point out everything I object to.

I disagree, somewhat. Do you want to translate, or localize?

"...while translations cannot, as a rule, be superior to the source material, localizations most certainly can."

— Tim Rogers, in his review of Final Fantasy VI


Usually yes. But understanding the original pun will often be helpful in trying to come up with your own jokes that fit in there.

For example, if I didn't knew that “Comed-Tea” is a pun on “Comedy”, I wouldn't be able to come up with a suitable German name for the drink. Once I noticed that, I was able to think of a analogous-yet-different joke that works in German (which is a pun on the German word for “weird”, by the way, since that fits nicely.)

(OTOH, I probably don't have to worry about context when translating these one word-omakes…)

I don't get the joke either.


Downvoted for low significance problem in a low significance text

Pros for Up: Lenghted appropriately short, recognising confusion, news on progress

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I would appriciate that downvoters of my downvote clarify whether they have issue with any of the listed motivations, the final vote direction or making these kinds of judgement comments

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