He who laughs
Has not yet received
The terrible news.

[Der Lachende
Hat die furchtbare Nachricht
Nur noch nicht empfangen.]

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“To Those Born Later [An die Nachgeborenen],” (1938) [tr. Horton (2008)]

Alt. trans.: "He who laughs last has not yet heard the bad news," and "The man who laughs has simply not yet had the terrible news."

The title is also sometimes translated as "To Those Who Follow In Our Wake" and "To Those Born After."

Oddly enough, the German is sometimes given in paraphrase (or back-translated from the English): "Wer jetzt noch lacht, hat die neuesten Nachrichten noch nicht gehört." This German only appears to be found on quotation sites.

Added on 17-Dec-15 | Last updated 9-Sep-20
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More quotes by Brecht, Bertholt

4 thoughts on ““To Those Born Later <i>[An die Nachgeborenen],”</i> (1938) [tr. Horton (2008)]”

  1. I wonder about this. My own copy of Brecht’s An die Nachgeborenen puts it this way:

    Der Lachende
    Hat die furchtbare Nachricht
    Nur noch nicht empfangen.

    Roughly equivalent meaning, much more elegant German. Could the man have said this in one place one way, in another place somewhat differently? Or…?

  2. While it’s not at all unusual for an author to express the same sentiment in different words, it looks like you’ve spotted an a case where an erroneous paraphrase of the original gets quoted as the original. That’s also not uncommon — the question here would be whether someone paraphrased the German which then got copied over to English quotations of the phrase, or if someone translated the German into English, then someone back-translated it to German to make it feel more authentic.

    In either case, your German text definitely matches the actual text of the poem in numerous online sources, whereas what I had as the German is only found on quotation sites.

    I will revise the entry to reflect that. Thanks, William!

  3. You’re welcome. What you had originally was close to how I was remembering it myself a while back, but it felt a bit crude and lumpy somehow, very unlike Brecht, so I looked it up again, which was probably why this stood out at me. I misquote things all the time myself — mangling something from Shakespeare or the Bible for years, until I chance on the proper quote in print, or hear it repeated correctly by someone with a better memory. It’s made me somewhat gun-shy, which is probably a good thing, so long as I’m careful not to go overboard on “the someone is wrong on the Internet” thing with good folks like yourself who are doing us all a genuine service.

    1. I appreciate the thought. As time goes on, I make a greater and greater effort to hunt down source material for these; you’d be amazed (or perhaps not) how often this sort of paraphrase-becomes-the-quote thing happens, alongside someone being attributed with a quote when they were actually (quite obviously in context) quoting someone themselves.

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