2 Reasons Why It’s Tricky To Translate Humor Online

I’ve heard so many people say that it’s tough to translate humor online, especially in 140 characters on Twitter. As an avid blogger, I know what they mean. I read dozens of posts every day, and I sometimes notice wonkiness on articles where something went wrong. I think it’s usually those times when the person was trying to communicate humor, but it just didn’t quite work.

That’s obviously not to say that it can’t be done, look at Geekologie for example. Almost every single post is straight out of a comedy club, and it works well. However, on Twitter, I see some people have a hard time translating humor, especially when it’s dry or sarcastic. You’ll often see follow-up tweets that explain the humor, which are in themselves awkward to read. I use direct messages a lot, and I’ve experienced it in those. I’ll crack a joke or type something that seems completely funny to me, but it isn’t always received that way.

Why is that? Why is it such a tough thing to figure out? I know that there are cultural differences between some countries that may cause the humor to be misinterpreted, but I’m talking more about the concept of typing. Why is it so hard to type humor? Someone even suggested that we have a sarcastic mark, like a question mark or exclamation point, which denotes sarcasm. It’s called a SarcMark, and you can actually download it. I think there are mainly two big reasons why it’s hard to convey humor online, but I’d really like to know your thoughts on it.

1. A big part of humor is communicated in sound

If you notice, a lot of humor, dry jokes and sarcasm are conveyed through sound. In other words, we hear them. I’m referring to the sounds that words make, and the tone of voice that we use. For example, consider this joke:

Q: Why do lobsters make such bad friends?
A: Because they are shellfish.

Aside from the fact that the joke is completely lame, I would not tweet it because it makes no sense unless it’s read out loud. Obviously when you hear it (the sound), the word shellfish sounds like selfish and it makes sense. However, how many people are reading your tweets or your blog out loud? I would guess very few, which explains why some jokes don’t translate.

Humor Doesn't Translate Online

2. A lot of humor is accompanied with body language

The second reason why I think it’s tough is because in person, when we joke around, it’s usually accompanied with some complementing body language. For example, an eye roll, a giggle, a smile, a hand gesture, a facial expression, etc… Online, we are limited to text only, so it can be tricky. Of course, we have the “LOL” at our disposal; but that is not always the sentiment we are trying to convey. What are your experiences with trying to communicate humor online?

Humor Doesn't Translate Online

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