Humor, says Michael Naydan, is the hardest thing to translate.
Sometimes it's in the phrasing, a joke or pun that's funny only to insiders. "Sometimes the humor is in political or cultural situations that people have to deal with in their everyday lives," says Naydan, professor of Slavic languages and literatures at Penn State. The Russian notion of comedy, for example, often seems perverse to Americans. "But comedy and tragedy are intertwined in the Russian psyche—they call it laughter through tears."