Does this pun make sense in Kanji?

Watching an anime series that has “honor among thieves” is “honor under the seas” as a frequent tagline. The two don’t really seem related outside the shows context of gangster mermaids.

So, I’m wondering if those two phrases look similar or otherwise make sense together in the original kanji?

I think it’s more likely that it makes sense as a pun phonetically (i.e. in kana), but not Kanji, though I can’t say for sure.

Missed edit: By searching that phrase, it appears that they localized that phrase, rather than directly translated it.

In the original Japanese, the “pun” is on 仁侠, pronounced “ninkyou” which means “Chivalry”. An alternate reading of the kanji is “ningyo”* which phonetically means “merman” (though the actual Kanji for ningyo=merman are 人魚). So a similar idea, but the exact phrases you presented don’t have much to do with it.

  • I’m not sure if this is right, if it is a valid alternate reading it’s obscure since my dictionary doesn’t have it, but that’s what the internet says.

Thanks Jragon for digging up the original phrase.

The full phrase is: 任侠と書いて人魚と読むきん

Direct translation is: Write “任侠” (ninkyo = chivalry) and pronounce it as 人魚 (ningyo = merman/mermaid).

Except they aren’t really pronounced the same, they don’t even rhyme. I suspect it’s an intentionally bad pun (i.e. so bad it’s funny).

Jokes are one of the hardest things to translate. Some do well, others not.

No, but the initial consonant of the second Kanji becomes voiced, a phenomenon known as “rendaku”. It’s a common thing to happen to Japanese words. Example: tokidoki, the word for “sometimes” is actually the word “toki” (“time”) repeated twice, but due to rendaku the “t” becomes a voiced consonant, i.e., a d, thus tokidoki. So as far as puns go, that checks out since the initial consonant of the second word becoming voiced is common in Japanese.

The thing that gets me is that it’s ninkyou, versus ningyo. Japanese has a vowel length distinction and it’s somewhat jarring to me that they use the short, rather than long, “o” sound in the latter word (while ningyo is a mermaid, ningyou is a doll). I mean, obviously it works as evidenced by the fact that it’s used. It’s just confusing to me as a nonnative speaker. Again, my dictionary doesn’t have the alternate reading listed, but I can at least see where it comes from because of how common rendaku is.

rendaku only happens to a consonant between two vowels, which is not the case here. Besides, rendaku is represented in hiragana, and would show up in the dictionary.

Not only that, but there is a pitch difference as well: ninkyo is high-high, ningyo is high-low.

I meant the original Japanese “pun” is a bad pun. (And yes,I’m a native Japanese speaker, though I have been living away from Japan for 8+ years now.)

Of course it’s a terrible pun. It’s a pun. And Japanese is a language so disgustingly rife with them I’m surprised they’re not all bloodthirsty madmen bent on global destruction. Like Daleks, but with anime and sushi.

So what the others have said is this sequenece of events

  1. japanese has it as “mermaid among thieves”, a kanji pun put there by the original japanese writers.

Translator spots the bad pun, and realises that is unrecognisable in english
so translator thinks up another pun of “honour among thieves”
and keeping to the maritime theme, puts “honour under the seas”.

Or perhaps the translator didnt realise that “under the sea” was wrong ??? perhaps they thought “chivalry of the sea” was the correct term in english.

Actually, I was agreeing with you that the original Japanese pun was untranslatable, and also really bad. I’m not a native speaker, and the manzai humor just goes right over my head. I do like oyaji gyagu not only because I’m an oyaji, but also because one doesn’t have to be that particularly clever to thing of them. Fortunately, my small children are almost to the age which they will appreciate them.