Even when I’m telling jokes, I’m capital-S Serious about language. My favorite joke involves seven different languages.(For instance, this is an updated version including a correction of an Italian word, thanks to a commenter whose catch you can read below.) I’ve never heard anyone but my dad tell it, so the idea of typing it appealed to me this afternoon. I think of it as a way to share it with my fellow logophiles (i.e., word lovers) — and to keep from telling it too often. Wait — is there such a thing?
(The joke has grown this summer with help from Kirstin Franklin of Chicago’s Akvavit Theater, who added the Norwegian and Icelandic words after we met this summer and shared the joke. Thanks, Kirstin!)
Without further ado, here it is:
Seven men were walking in a park — an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Spaniard, an Italian, a Norwegian, an Icelander and a German. A butterfly flew past them.
“Isn’t that beautiful?” said the Englishman. “And isn’t language a wonderful thing, that it can give us such a great word to talk about that little creature — butterfly.”
“That’s not such a great word,” said the Frenchman. “You know French is prettier, and I tell you that was a papillon.”
“Well, that’s better,” said the Spaniard, “but Spanish has a word that’s even better: mariposa. Just as light as the creature itself, mariposa!”
“No, no, no!” said the Italian. “Everyone knows Italian is the prettiest language! I tell you that was a farfalla!”
The Norwegian smiled. “Well, I guess that is prettier than the Norwegian word. I call that little creature a sommerfugl.”
The Icelander winced. “They’re all easier for me than I think my word will be for you. I call that little creature — who was here a while ago — a fiorildi. Now that’s a pretty word!”
They walked on, six of them arguing, until they all realized that the German hadn’t said anything yet. As one, they all stopped, turned, and stared at him.
The German stared back and said “And what is de matter mit Schmetterling?”
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