English As She Is Spoke (1884)

English As She is Spoke, by Pedro Carolino; 1884; Appleton, New York

Pedro Carolino wrote this classic in the genre of unintentional humour to help Portuguese students peer into the murky bubble of English. Instead he added considerably to the murk. It seems Carolino knew next to no English and had no Portuguese–English dictionary to hand. Thus he was forced to embark on a convoluted workaround. For each entry he first consulted a Portuguese–French phrasebook, then a French–English dictionary. This complicated translatory journey led to some hilarious results. Carolino tried to cover his tracks by claiming in the preface to have made his book “clean of gallicisms and despoiled phrases.” As just a quick glance at the book’s pages betrays, this was more than wishful thinking on Carolino’s part. His failure is, however, comedy’s success — the book is now known and loved for just the despoliation he tried to avoid.

In the first part of the book Carolino introduces the key English vocab and phrases, such as “You come too rare”, “He was the word for to laugh”, and “I am catched cold in the brain”. In the second part, Familiar Dialogues, he features conversations to help the student-reader put a native English speaker at their ease. When out on a walk the reader is encouraged to comment, “You hear the bird’s gurgling? Which pleasure! which charm! The field has by me a thousand charms.” And what to do if their walking companion gifts them some fruit? “These apricots and these peaches make me and to come water in mouth.”

Next there is a series of letters from famous personages, a collection of anecdotes, and finally the perfectly titled “Idiotisms and Proverbs.” Mark Twain, who wrote the introduction to the first English edition (published a year before the one we are featuring) declared: “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect.” We can’t help but agree.