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English As She Is Spoke

23/05/2012

You’ve probably encountered, and possibly used, this mocking headline. Spare a thought, however, for its genesis.

O Novo Guia da Conversação em Portuguez e Inglez was the title of a work, originally published in Paris in 1855, which is almost certainly the worst phrasebook ever written. The author, Pedro Carolino, was Portuguese and did not really speak English, nor did he have the help of a Portuguese-English dictionary. Instead, he worked with a Portuguese-French phrasebook and a French-English dictionary. To give the book some spurious authority, Pedro unilaterally added the name of José da Fonseca (author of the source phrasebook) as his co-author.

His Preface sets the tone:

A choice of familiar dialogues, clean of gallicisms, and despoiled phrases, it was missing yet to studious Portuguese and Brazilian Youth; and also to persons of others nations, that wish to know the Portuguese language. We sought all we may do, to correct that want, composing and divising the present little work in two parts. The first includes a greatest vocabulary proper names by alphabetical order; and the second forty three Dialogues adapted to the usual precisions of the life. For that reason we did put, with a scrupulous exactness, a great variety own expressions to english and Portuguese idioms; without to attach us selves (as make some others) almost at a literal translation; translation what only will be for to accustom the Portuguese pupils, or foreign, to speak very bad any of the mentioned idioms.

After thus disparaging his predecessors, the author begins with a list of Useful Words and Familiar Dialogues for every foreseeable circumstance in which an unwary traveller might find himself, such as:

For to ride a horse.

A: Here is a horse who have a bad looks. Give me another; I will not that. He not sall know to march, he is pursy, he is foundered. Don’t you are ashamed to give me a jade as like? he is undshoed, he is with nails up; it want to lead to the farrier.
B:Your pistols are its loads?
A: No; I forgot to buy gun-powder and balls. Let us prick. Go us more fast never I was seen a so much bad beast; she will not nor to bring forward neither put back.
B: Strek him the bridle, hold him the reins sharters.
A: Pique stron gly, make to marsh him.
B: I have pricked him enough. But I can’t to make march him.
A: Go down, I shall make march.
B: Take care that he not give you a foot kick’s.
A: Then he kicks for that I look? Look here if I knew to tame hix.

It closes with the glories of Idiotisms and Proverbs, including some which you might be able to deploy in conversation:

The necessity don’t know the low.
Few, few the bird make her nest.
He is not valuable to breat that he eat.
Its are some blu stories.
Nothing some money, nothing of Swiss.
He sin in trouble water.
In the country of blinds, the one eyed man are kings.
To build castles in Espagnish.
Cat scalded fear the cold water.
Take out the live coals with the hand of the cat.
A horse baared don’t look him the tooth.
Take the occasion for the hairs.
To do a wink to some body.
So many go the jar to spring, than at last rest there.
It want to beat the iron during it is hot.
He is not so devil as he is black.
He is beggar as a church rat.
So much go the jar to spring that at last it break there.
Keep the chestnut of the fire with the cat foot.
Friendship of a child is water into a basket.
Of the hand to mouth, one lose often the soup.
To look for a needle in a hay bundle.
To be as a fish into the water.
To come back at their muttons.

In 1883 the book’s innate hilarity was finally acknowledged and it was republished in London as English As She Is Spoke for an adoring public. Mark Twain wrote a foreword for the American edition of 1884, maintaining that, “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect.”

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