Here are 2 English sentences, both have the word 'Nothing' in it in the noun form. I am wondering if it can be translated into Chinese while preserving as much of its original meaning as possible.
What do rich people want, poor people have, and is greater than god? Answer: Nothing (as a noun). In Chinese, the question would be "什么东西有钱人想要，穷人有，还比上帝伟大？" I guess one could say "没有这个东西" "没有任何东西", which is really a phrase and would barely make sense in the answer:富人想要没有任何东西，穷人有没有任何东西，没有任何东西比上帝还伟大. Changing it to 富人不想要/需要任何东西，穷人没有任何东西，没有任何东西比上帝还伟大 makes it slightly less cleverly worded, and the first 2 parts turn from a positive statement (the rich 'want' and the poor 'have') into a negative statement ('do not want' vs 'do not have') respectively.
There is an American comedy TV series called I Dream of Jeannie. For those who don't know, it is about a 2000 year old genie from ancient Baghdad called Jeannie. She means well but always causes trouble for her master, Tony, with her enthusiasm and mischievous attitude and sometimes purposely go out of her way to annoy him/do things her way. Tony wants to keep her and her magic a secret because he cannot explain it to people in modern day America.
Now, in one episode, there is a nosy kid in the neighbourhood, and he keeps climbing trees and peak inside Tony's windows and is on the verge of finding out their secret. Jeannie and Tony are annoyed so Jeannie says "I will turn him into a frog!". Tony is horrified and says "You will turn him into nothing!" He really meant that he forbids Jeannie to turn him into anything, in Chinese, "你不可以把他变成任何东西!. But Jeannie took this sentence to be a command that means 你要you will 把他变成 turn him into [Nothing] ie, make him disappear. So Jeannie then says "That is an excellent idea!" and proceeds to do so.
The double meaning of the sentence/word is what makes her reaction funny. I am wondering if it can be translated to Chinese and still be funny. If not, what happens when translators really can't translate something? Do they replace it with something else or just let it gets lost in translation and ignore it?