“May the Fourth Be With You”

This year on May 4, I am thinking about how this pun would translate (or not!) into other languages. The pun only works in English because the verb “may” happens to be identical to the month name “May” and “fourth” sounds pretty close to “force.”

“May the force be with you” is a subjunctive construction. The subjunctive is used to express desires, wishes, or emotions. To form the subjunctive in English, we flip the subject-auxiliary verb order (“The force may” > “May the force”).

In Romance languages, however, the subjunctive gets its very own verb form. The construction is basically the second half of the sentence “(I hope) the force is with you”:

“Que la force soit avec vous.”

No pun about May or even the possibility of contriving one. This pun would be quite difficult to translate into a foreign language.

It would likely have to be changed to a pun of similar mood and effect that “works” in the target language. Anyone who has studied languages knows that puns and humor are the most difficult things to understand (and to translate)!

Happy Star Wars Day!

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