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In this Super Easy German episode, Emmanuel asks a lady on the street if she would like to ask help of a person standing nearby for help. The person is referred to in German as Joker. Collins dictionary refers to Joker as both the english Joker and as "Trump card". How do I know which meaning is used? I ask, because I understood Jokers as normally a rude word to call someone.

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  • Note that the english "Joker" Collins refers to is this one, which you can see by the "(CARDS)" before the word. It's also the second meaning here.
    – xyldke
    Sep 21, 2022 at 11:45

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The translation of Joker as "trump card" is wrong. The correct translation is "wildcard".

In a lot of card games, the joker can take the role of any card. The joker card functions as a replacement for a card the player would need, but does not have.

From that literal meaning, German has derived a fiugrative meaning: In quiz games, Joker means that the player is allowed to get a hint.

This meaning is most prominently known from the TV show Wer wird Millionär? (the German version of Who wants to be a Millionaire?).

This is the way the word is used in your example.

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The German word "Joker" originally refers to the Joker card; and somewhat inherits the meaning of "wild card" from it. It does not mean "trump card", which is called "Trumpf" instead.

To make sense of the interaction you ask about, we need to consider the TV show "Wer wird Millionär?", the German counterpart to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?". In this show, the candidate has to answer a series of questions. Before the game begins, they can designate a person they are allowed to make a phone call for help to once during the game. This phone call is called the "Telefonjoker", which then also refers to the person called. I assume the naming is inspired from the "wild card"-meaning of Joker.

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    Wow. We answered at the same time. It is impressive how similar our answers are. Seems to be an indication we are both right. ;) Sep 21, 2022 at 11:38
  • One small nitpick: in Austria "Trumpf" is rather unusual for "trump", the Austrians use the (french-derived) "Atout" (a tout = "on[to] everything").
    – bakunin
    Sep 21, 2022 at 14:30
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I'd say the usage of Joker as in "a person known for telling jokes" is rather rare. The word joke is not unheard of in Germany and "Joker" might be known from the Batman context but calling a comedian or entertainer a Joker would be incredibly rare even the rather old-fashioned "Witzeerzähler" (person telling jokes) would likely be more common.

So as other's have mentioned the more likely chain for reference is to a variant of a "lifeline" from "who wants to be a millionaire" where those lifelines are called "jokers" and were especially the "phone a friend" became known as telefonjoker and was used extensively outside of that context when someone was asked a question they couldn't immediately answer and thus became almost idiomatic.

And that is likely to originate from the joker in card games where it serves most often as a wild card that could replace whatever the player needs it to be. And there it's called joker because the french design featured a joker for that card, likely because a joker doesn't have to play by the rules making it a wild or trump card.

So in most cases they are likely referring to a lifeline from a quiz or any device that makes a challenge easier.

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    'and "Joker" might be known from the Batman context' - for what it's worth, while growing up I used to be convinced the Batman character named "Joker" was modelled after the figure typically seen on the playing card called "Joker" (before learning the English meaning of the word). Sep 21, 2022 at 22:44
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"joker" has, according to Collins Dictionary, three meanings in English:

  1. Someone who makes jokes, a comedian.
  2. A joker in a set of cards, often used as a wildcard (and definitely not a trump card)
  3. Someone who is behaving in a stupid or dangerous way

Of these definitions, only (2) can be applied to the German "Joker".

In a "Batman" context, you might come across the "Joker" as a proper name. This is the same in German (but, obviously, not with the (1) and (3) connotations as above).

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