Are There Any Good Knock-Knock Jokes in Russian? Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 in Culture, language

Speaking of stereotypes, Russians usually view themselves as having a highly-developed чувство юмора (sense of humor). We cherish our анекдоты (jokes), however бородатые (old; lit: bearded) they might be.

Indeed, Russians have an impressive catalog of joke categories, from армянское радио (Armenian radio) one-liners to elaborate шутки о том свете (afterlife jokes; lit: jokes about the other world). There are countless jokes about forest animals, political leaders, historical figures, fiction characters. Just about every major ethnic group has quite a few totally non-politically correct jokes.

Yet, in all this abundance, you will not find a single knock-knock joke! Ok, you might find one or two (if you do, please share in the comments). But it will be nothing compared to the rich knock-knock jokes tradition in the US (what about other countries?)

So, here’s the deal – knock-knock jokes are impossible to translate since the vast majority of them is built on wordplay. Consider translating this joke into Russian:

– Knock-knock
– Who’s there?
– Doris
– Doris who?
– Doris locked, that’s why I had to knock

The whole entire joke hinges (pun intended) on the fact that “Doris” sounds just like “Door is”. But in Russian Дорис sounds nothing like дверь.

This is not to say that Russian language is short on clever каламбур (pun, quibble, wordplay). The signs are all over, in classical literature as well as in everyday speech. It’s just they never take the “knock-knock” format.

For example, there is a story about Alexander Pushkin (seems like every literary topic starts with this guy). You see, Pushkin was visiting an acquaintance. Now, picture this idyllic scene – Pushkin is in a chair, reading; the host is reclining on a couch and the host’s two young children are playing on the floor. Bored, the host asked Pushkin to come up with a poetic one-liner. Without skipping a bit, the poet offered this one

Детина полуумный лежит на диване (Half-witted bozo is laying on a couch)

Quiz question: Did the host get offended?

Answer: yes, but Pushkin was quick to explain that his acquaintance did not hear him correctly and, in fact, Pushkin’s one liner was Дети на полу, умный лежит на диване (Children are on the floor, smart one is laying on a couch).

Essay topic: Do you consider Pushkin’s one-liner a fine стёб? Why or why not?

Ай да Пушкин, ай да сукин сын! (Atta boy, Pushkin! Atta son of a gun!)

Or take for example this rhyme, familiar to just about every Russian child:

Говорит попугай попугаю,
Я тебя, попугай, попугаю.
Попугай попугаю в ответ,
Попугай, попугай, попугая.

(A parrot says to a parrot,
I will scare you, parrot.
The parrot answers the parrot,
Parrot, scare the parrot)

Some more phrases that sound the same, but are written differently and mean very different things:

И та ли я (And am I the same) sounds just like и талия (and waist) just like Италия (Italy)
Надо – едали which can be translated as “if we/they had to, we/they ate it” sounds just like надоедали (we/they annoyed)
Горда ль (proud, isn’t she?) written just slightly differently becomes гор даль (faraway mountains)
Poetic line О, верь, Мишель! (Oh, believe, Michelle!) turns into a more прозаичная (unpoetic) О, вермишель! (Oh, vermicelli!)

Here are some more for you to enjoy:

О, путана! (Oh, prostitute!) – Опутана (she is tangled up)
Раз били (Hit once) – разбили (broke)
Кокос (coconut) – как ос (like wasps) – here keep in mind that unstressed “o” in Russian words sounds like “a”
Поляна (forest clearing) – Поля, на! (Here, Polya!) – Поля is a diminutive of Полина (Polina)
навес (overhang) – на вес (by weight)

So even though there are practically no knock-knock jokes in Russian, there are plenty of opportunities for wordplay.

Here are two challenges for you so you can pick and choose. The first one is to find other examples of wordplay in Russian literature, songs, jokes, etc. Or come up with your own. The second challenge is to search for Russian стук-стук (knock-knock) jokes.

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  1. Vale:

    I’m not sure if it’s a joke or just a rude answer, but what about “Кто?” – “Конь в пальто” (“Who is there? (там is very often omitted) – “A horse in a coat”

  2. Fizmat:

    I still remember these children’s rhymes:

    Зверек, зверек куда бежишь?
    Как звать тебя, малышка?
    Бегу в камыш, камыш, камыш.
    Я мышка, мышка, мышка.

    Что несешь?
    Суп, суп, суп.
    А кому?
    Псу, псу, псу.

    Эй, Сережа, Вера, Ира,
    Что повесили носы?
    Очень сыро, сыро, сыро
    От росы, росы, росы!

    Вот этой овсянки не хочется киске,
    Вот этой овсянки, которая в миске.
    Какой же овсянки она захотела,
    Не той ли, что мимо сейчас пролетела?

    Говорит Ивану Ганка:
    Глянь-ка: банка, банка, банка!
    Удивляется Иван:
    Где кабан, кабан, кабан?

    • yelena:

      @Fizmat Awesome! Now that you mention it, I do recall the rhyme about Ivan and Ganka, but the others are new to me. I must’d not paid attention in class 🙂 But I love them and will read them to my son.

  3. Olga Tarn:

    А как же “классическое”?

    – Тук-тук
    – Кто там?
    – Это я, сто грамм!
    – Заходи!

    чисто русское причем ;)))

    • yelena:

      @Olga Tarn Yep, that’s one of the only two Russian knock-knock jokes I know 🙂

  4. Olga Tarn:

    в догонку к “попугаю”:

    Косил косой косой косой.


    • yelena:

      @Olga Tarn Excellent example, Olga! Even better than my попугай попугай попугая 🙂

  5. Sarovara:

    Why do you mistranslate “сукин сын! as “son of a gun”? It is pure and simple SON OF A BITCH

    • yelena:

      @Sarovara Good question, Sarovara. In English, “son of a gun” is not the same as the alternative you suggested. While it can be used as a euphemisms for “son of a bitch”, it is also used as a compliment or to express affection. Both “son of a gun” and “son of a bitch” are valid translations for the Russian expression “сукин сын”. In the case of “ай да Пушкин, ай да сукин сын!” the more affectionate and complimentary of the two phrases is called for based on the origin of the Russian phrase itself.

  6. Paula:

    There are no knock-knock jokes in Brazil as well. Otherwise we have lots of jokes about Portuguese people and small dots (something like “what is a yellow dot in the sky? Yellowcopter”). It’s for kids. Adults can’t laugh about it… =)

  7. Nelieta:

    I find it very interesting how humour differs from country to country. I have been married to my Russian husband for 7 years and I still don’t understand the Russian jokes. Some of them are not funny at all. Russians love to play with words and to tell jokes. The same can be said for my South African sense of humour. Most of the time he doesn’t think our jokes are funny.

  8. Richard Lowery:

    ” Knock, knock, who’s in Teremok’ would not count as a knock-knock joke.

  9. Hyyudu:

    >> Косил косой косой косой.
    There is a wider version:
    Косил косой-косой косой косой Косой косой косой косой косой.
    Косил (mowed) косой-косой (very drunk) косой (cross-eyed) косой (hare) Косой (named Kosoy) косой косой (with crooked scythe) косой косой (on bent foreland)

  10. michael:

    “is lying on the couch” not laying… very good piece on Russian jokes… thanks!

  11. Eugenia:

    I’m not entirely sure if you’ve come across that joke (more of a saying actually), which I consider as a “knock-knock joke”.

    – Кто там?
    – Кто-кто, конь в пальто.

    So, I believe there’s no need to explain it and yet I will.
    The answer – “a horse in a coat” has absolutely no meaning or specific reference, and, once again, it’s just a rhyme that sounds fitting in this exact situation.