How a Portuguese-to-English Phrasebook Became a Cult Comedy Sensation
Meet 1883’s most absurd language guide.
In the middle of the 19th century, a relatively unknown author named Pedro Carolino rapidly gained intercontinental popularity over a small Portuguese-to-English phrasebook. English as She Is Spoke (or O novo guia da conversação em portuguez e inglez) was originally intended to help Portuguese speakers dabble in the English tongue, but was penned by a man who spoke little to no English himself. And, instead of helping Portuguese speakers learn a second language, it became a cult classic for fans of inept and unintentional humor.
It quickly gained notoriety among English speakers, including author Mark Twain, who wrote the introduction for the first English edition, published in 1883. Twain endorsed the book, saying “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect.”
It is presumed that Carolino wrote the book through the aid of a Portuguese-to-French dictionary and a French-to-English dictionary, using the former for an initial translation of a word or phrase from Portuguese, and the latter to convert it from French into English. The result, of course, is a mishmash of cloudy gibberish.
For instance, the second chapter is titled “Familiar Phrases,” and features sentences intended to help the weary Portuguese traveler in everyday conversation. These phrases include classics like “He has spit in my coat”; “take that boy and whip him to much”; and the oft-used “these apricots and these peaches make me and to come water in mouth.”SurrealAmerican, A little weird like this
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