English As She Is Broke

Its delicious unconscious ridiculousness, and its enchanting naïveté, as are supreme and unapproachable, in their way, as are Shakespeare’s sublimities. Whatsoever is perfect in its kind, in literature, is imperishable: nobody can imitate it successfully . . .

So wrote Mark Twain in his introduction to Pedro Carolino’s English As She Is Spoke (1883), a Portuguese-English conversational guide infamous for its incoherent translations and memorable incongruities.

Every page of this short book is rich in non sequiturs and grammatical mishaps that border on the poetic, the cumulative effect of which is a rare and unpredictable entertainment.

Will you this?
Let us amuse rather to the fishing.
The coffee is good in all time.
You hear the bird’s gurgling? Which pleasure! which charm!
Comb-me quickly; don’t put me so much pomatum.
He burns one’s self the brains.
You come too rare.
I row upon the belly on the back and between two waters.

Carolino’s book offers vocabularies, phrases, dialogues, letters and anecdotes, all of them delightfully mangled. There is a pronunciation guide that renders washerwoman as uox’-eur-ummeune, and a list of proverbs that turns “A rolling stone gathers no moss” into “The stone as roll not heap up not foam”.

If it were twice as accurate, it would not be half as beguiling.

The book’s history is also muddled. Collins Library published a new edition in 2002 that followed an early edition in crediting Carolino and José da Fonseca as authors. But Fonseca appears to have had no involvement except that his own work inspired Carolino’s awful effort. (I use the word inspired loosely: Carolino spoke no English, and borrowed wholesale from one of Fonseca’s phrasebooks.)

After linguist Alexander MacBride got a copy of the Collins Library edition, he contacted the publishers to question the dual authorship. He felt that a grave injustice had been done to Fonseca:

Not only was his little phrasebook ripped off, and transformed into an eternal monument of linguistic incompetence — he, the victim of the outrage, is remembered by posterity as its author!

Further digging by MacBride threw more light on how the confusion came about. It’s a nice bit of historical research. He found that Fonseca was “a serious and competent scholar” who had an excellent command of English and was “contemptuous of shoddy and amateurish conversation guides and phrasebooks”.

So English As She Is Spoke — Carolino’s “Jest in Sober Earnest” — would presumably have earned Fonseca’s contempt, but we can enjoy it on its own inimitable terms. After all,

A little learneds are happies enough for to may to satisfy their fancies on the literature.

You can download English As She Is Spoke in various formats at Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive.

Put your confidence at my. How do you can it to deny?

17 Responses to English As She Is Broke

  1. Haha!. I am suddenly inspired to start a band and call it ‘The Stones as Roll Not’.

  2. laumerritt says:

    “There is a pronunciation guide that renders washerwoman as uox’-eur-ummeune,”

    Well, as a matter of fact, uox’-eur-ummeune makes sense if you read it using Portuguese phonemes. For example, ‘x’ in Portuguese is pronounce “sh/ch”. In Brazil, Cheeseburger is Written “X-burger” as the letter “X” is prononunced “sheesh”

    In Spanish(MX), washerwoman would phonetically be written as “uácher-úman.”

  3. Ah it’s years since I thought of this book. I could do with a laugh so hoft to project gutenberg I jolly well go!

  4. substuff says:

    This is how I talk after a week of subbing shifts have burned myself’s brains.

  5. Marc Leavitt says:

    Stan:
    Your post is a short trip down memory lane – I remember the book fondly. But on a more serious note, the same sort of guide could be written by any foreign language speaker with a nearly incomplete knowledge of English idiom. Some of the funniest examples of fractured English are found on signs and menus people see during their foreign travels.

  6. Stan says:

    S.E.: A fine idea! You could run all your lyrics through Babelfish.

    Laura: Thanks for explaining. I figured it was a close enough rendering, and it probably wasn’t the best example from the book, but it’s still orthographically remarkable (to my eyes).

    Jams: Enjoy your return.

    substuff: Hee. I know what you mean.

    Marc: That’s true. The enduring popularity of “Engrish” testifies to the amusement value of meaning lost or deformed in translation.

  7. John Cowan says:

    “uox’-eur-ummeune” is actually a reasonable transcription of washerwoman into Portuguese-like orthography, where x = English sh. The eu, however, owes more to French.

  8. Joe McVeigh says:

    This must be the same book that John McWhorter referred to as “The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English” and “the funniest book ever written in human history” in Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue. Some of the examples he cited had me rolling on the floor:
    Silence! There is a superb perch! You mistake you, it is a frog!

    It’s like a 19th century version of engrish.com. In a perverse way, it makes me want to write a conversational guide in a language I know nothing about. Then I could learn the language and laugh at all the ridiculous things I wrote. I guess I’ve said incorrect or inappropriate things in other languages enough times that I find such mistakes as funny as native speakers do.

    Thanks, Stan, for the link to download this book. I’m definitely going to check it out.

  9. Stan says:

    John: If I didn’t know better, the eu would seem designed to guide the learner into speaking with a stereotypically heavy foreign accent.

    Joe: Yes, it’s the same book. Apparently that was the subtitle of Dover Publications’ 1969 edition. I’ve said some inadvertently hilarious things in other languages too, but I don’t know if the “joke” has even been delivered in so perfect and sustained a form. I predict that you’ll love every page of it, especially if you like the reading good deal too many which seem me, so to misspeak.

  10. wisewebwoman says:

    I love to hear these read aloud, they are all the funnier.
    I often sound my speak in like early mornings.
    XO
    WWW

  11. Deó de hÚseille says:

    You might be interested in knowing that the French do very amusing takeoffs of steriotypical English and English-speaking north-Americans endeavouring to speak French which leads me to ask why are those English-language films no longer made which depict characters actually speaking English But affecting ‘foreign’ accents to suggest foreign authenticity, eg., French, Germans, etc. Such are seen these days on television and are an unintentional hoot.

  12. Stan says:

    I imagine such parodies of foreign accents occur in most cultures, Deó. Making gentle fun of regional accents is also popular; Stephen Fry even indulged in it for his recent documentary on language. It’s a very long time since I saw Inspector Clouseau — I have no idea how funny or not those films are now!

  13. Deó de hÚseille says:

    The Pink Panther films were singularly un-funny and were a send-up of the gendre I alluded to. Like the Western which was also eventually sent-up mercilessly,and has therefore become largely defunct.

    By the bye,the word,brogue,(accent)derived from the Irish,barróg,(Brogue-shoe, is a different word) which means to hug or an impediment of speech, was originally descriptively applied to the early Elizabeathan settlers in Ireland in their attempts to speak Irish by the Irish and later was applied to the Irish themselves by the English to describe the latters attempts at English speech!

  14. johnwcowan says:

    The good Inspector’s accent is so French as to be quite un-French: it is wildly overdone and going nowhere but down….

  15. David Morris says:

    I first encountered this book through its inclusion in ‘The Book of Heroic Failures’ by Stephen Pile (1979), and had basically forgotten about it. I wasn’t paying attention when I read your introduction to it, and thought that Twain had written the whole book, not someone actually Portuguese, so that it would be classified as parody or play by a master of English, not as incompetence or Heroic Failure by a non-master of it.

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