Monday, 24 June 2013

What is allowed to be?

The main Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat publishes a controversial comic, Fingerpori. It is an awesome piece of culture, and offensive on multiple levels, but sadly, most jokes are based on wordplay, so I cannot share the joy with my non-Finnish-speaking friends.

But today they have a joke which works both in Finnish and in German:

Wittgenstein am Imbiss:
"Was darf es sein?"
"Die Frage ist sinnlos."

In English it doesn't work:
Wittgenstein at a hotdog stand:
"What is allowed to be?" "What is allowed to be it?" (This is a slightly old-fashioned (at least in Finnish) way to ask what the customer would like to have.)
"The question makes no sense."


  1. "Another drink, Monsieur?"
    "I think not," said René Descartes and disappeared.

  2. Shouldn't the English translation be "What is it allowed to be?"? And conversely, the German translation of the English sentence is "Was darf sein?", which reminds me of But I digress.

  3. I had thought that the "es" in "was darf es sein" is the Numen (the same thing which rains in "it rains" and so on). Is this not true?

  4. Yes it is. But there is a difference between
    "Was darf sein?" = "What is allowed to be?" and
    "Was darf es sein?" which most directly would be ~ "What may it be?", but also could be construed as "What is allowed to be it?"