Saturday, 14 April 2012

English as she is mangled

In my last post I mentioned Pedro Carolino's epic Portuguese-English conversational phrase book - English As She Is Spoke. Today I thought I might save you the bother of digging the book out by presenting you with a few of the choicer snippets. A little history might interest you too.

O Novo Guia da Conversacao

English As She Is Spoke was published in 1883 and co-credited to José da Fonseca. It had long been assumed that the authors of this Portuguese to English phrasebook did not, in fact, know any English. But, recently, Alex MacBride of the UCLA Department of Linguistics has uncovered evidence to suggest that the book may be an incompetent ripoff by Carolino of an earlier French to English phrasebook authored by Fonseca. The book contains many dictionary-aided translations that are wildly inaccurate. For example, the Portuguese phrase 'chover a cântaros' is translated as 'raining in jars', whereas an idiomatic English translation would be 'raining buckets.'

Mark Twain said of the book 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.'


Carolino's bastardised phrasebook was discovered by a British traveler in the 1860s, in the Portuguese colony of Macao, off the coast of China.  He was astonished to see that it was being used as a textbook in the island's schools. Upon his return to London, he made the book public and we've loved it ever since. So just how bad is English As She Is Spoke? Let me show you. Here are some popular proverbs and what Carolino, without any irony, calls 'idiotisms':

Few, few the bird make her nest.

Nothing some money, nothing of Swiss.

In the country of blinds, the one eyed man are kings.

To do a wink to some body.

So many go the jar to spring, than at last rest there.

He eat untill to can't more.

It want to beat the iron during it is hot.

The stone as roll not heap up not foam.

He is beggar as a church rat.

Keep the chestnut of the fire with the cat foot.

Friendship of a child is water into a basket.

Burn the politeness.

Of the hand to mouth, one lose often the soup.

To look for a needle in a hay bundle.

To craunch the marmoset.

To buy cat in pocket.

To make paps for the cats.

To fatten the foot.

Carolino also includes some 'common dialogues' to give his readers some idea of common English conversation. For example:

DIALOGUE 17 To Inform One'self of a Person

How is that gentilman who you did speak by and by? Is a German.
I did think him Englishman. He is of the Saxony side.
He speak the french very well. Tough he is German, he speak so much well italyan, french, spanish and english, that among the Italyans, they believe him Italyan, he speak the frenche as the Frenches himselves. The Spanishesmen believe him Spanishing, and the Englishes, Englishman. It is difficult to enjoy well so much several languages.


Glorious, isn't it? I laughed out loud at a description of a walk in the country that involved 'The gurgling of birds'.

The whole book can be accessed for free here at Project Gutenberg.

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