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English as She Is Spoke

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English as She Is Spoke
AuthorPedro Carolino and José da Fonseca (credited)
Original titleO novo guia da conversação em portuguez e inglez
LanguagePortuguese and English
GenrePhrase book
PublisherJ.P. Aillaud
Publication date
Publication placeFrance
Media typePrint
TextEnglish as She Is Spoke at Wikisource

O novo guia da conversação em portuguez e inglez,[a] commonly known by the name English as She Is Spoke, is a 19th-century book written by Pedro Carolino, with some editions crediting José da Fonseca as a co-author. It was intended as a PortugueseEnglish conversational guide or phrase book. However, because the provided translations are usually inaccurate or unidiomatic, it is regarded as a classic source of unintentional humour in translation.

The humour largely arises from Carolino's indiscriminate use of literal translation, which has led to many idiomatic expressions being translated ineptly. For example, Carolino translates the Portuguese phrase chover a cântaros as "raining in jars", when an analogous English idiom is available in the form of "raining buckets".

It is widely believed that Carolino could not speak English and that a French–English dictionary was used to translate an earlier Portuguese–French phrase book O novo guia da conversação em francês e português, written by José da Fonseca. Carolino likely added Fonseca's name to the book, without his permission, in an attempt to give it some credibility. The Portuguese–French phrase book is apparently a competent work, without the defects that characterize the Portuguese–English one.[2][3][4]

The title English as She Is Spoke was given to the book in its 1883 republication, but the phrase does not appear in the original phrasebook, nor does the word "spoke".[1][5]

Cultural appraisals and influence[edit]

Mark Twain said of English as She Is Spoke "Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect."[6]

Stephen Pile mentions this work in The Book of Heroic Failures and comments: "Is there anything in conventional English which could equal the vividness of 'to craunch a marmoset'?"[7] The original has "to craunch the marmoset", an entry under the book's "Idiotisms and Proverbs". This is the author's attempt to translate the French slang idiomatic expression croquer le marmot, used to indicate "waiting patiently for someone to open a door",[8] with croquer referring to the "knocking" or "rapping" sound, and marmot, a term for the grotesque door knockers in vogue at the time. "Craunch" is an archaic term meaning 'to chew' or 'crunch'. In Modern French, croquer usually means "to crunch" (cf. croque monsieur); its use in this idiom is a survival from the Middle French meaning of croquer, crocquer, which meant "to slap, hit, strike".

Tristan Bernard wrote a very short comedy with a similar name, L'Anglais tel qu'on le parle (1899). Ionesco's La Cantatrice chauve (1950) is mostly made of lines used out-of-context from inter-lingual conversation books. British comedy television series Monty Python's Flying Circus made use of the theme of the mis-translating guide in the sketch "Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook" (1970), which may have been directly inspired by English as She Is Spoke.[9]

Phrase examples[edit]

Sentence in Portuguese Given translation Idiomatic translation
As paredes têm ouvidos. The walls have hearsay. The walls have ears.
Anda de gatinhas. He go to four feet. He's crawling.
A estrada é segura? Is sure the road? Is the road safe?
Sabe montar a cavalo. He know ride horse. He can ride a horse.
Quem cala consente. That not says a word, consent. Silence is consent.
Que faz ele? What do him? What does he do? / What is he doing?
Tenho vontade de vomitar. I have mind to vomit. I want to vomit.
Este lago parece-me bem piscoso. Vamos pescar para nos divertirmos. That pond it seems me many multiplied of fishes. Let us amuse rather to the fishing. This lake looks full of fish. Let's have some fun fishing.
O criado arou a terra real. The created plough the land real. The servant ploughed the royal land.
Bem sei o que devo fazer ou me compete. I know well who I have to make. I know very well what I have to do and what my responsibilities are.
Eu ganhei mais de trinta mil réis. I had gained ten lewis. I won more than thirty thousand réis.
Entendestes ôu entendeu o que eu disse? Have you understant that y have said? Did you understand what I said?
Elle dá couces pelo que vejo. Olhe como eu o sobe domar. Then he kicks for that I look? Sook here if I knew to tame hix. [To a horse rider] From what I see, he kicks. Look at how I was able to tame him.

In addition to the examples above, Carolino managed to create a number of words which added to the book's unintentionally comic effect. Many can be found in the "Familiar Dialogues" section and include the above "Sook here if I knew to tame hix".

Publication history[edit]

  • 1853 – In Paris, J.-P. Aillaud, Monlon e Ca published a Portuguese–French phrase book entitled O novo guia da conversação em francês e português by José da Fonseca. The Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal (National Library of Portugal) has a copy of this book with catalog number L.686P. Another copy of this book is in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France) under the catalog number FRBNF30446608.
  • 1855 – In Paris, J.-P. Aillaud, Monlon e Ca published a Portuguese–English phrase book entitled O Novo Guia da Conversação, em Português e Inglês, em Duas Partes (literally, The new guide to conversation, in Portuguese and English, in Two Parts), with authorship attributed to José da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino. A copy of this book is in the Bibliothèque nationale de France under the catalog number FRBNF30446609. Another copy is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
  • 1883 – The book was published in London as English as She is Spoke. The first American edition, published in Boston, also came out this year, with an introduction by Mark Twain.
  • 1969 – The book was re-published in New York by Dover Publications, under the title English as she is spoke; the new guide of the conversation in Portuguese and English (ISBN 0-486-22329-9).
  • 2002 – A new edition edited by Paul Collins was published under the Collins Library imprint of McSweeney's (ISBN 0-9719047-4-X).
  • 2002 – Brazilian edition of the copies of the 1855 edition held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Bodleian Library, published by Casa da Palavra, Rio de Janeiro (ISBN 85-87220-56-X).
  • 2004 – A revised paperback version of the above Collins Library edition was published (ISBN 1-932416-11-0).

Related titles[edit]

The phrase inspired some other publications, notably:

  • English as she is wrote (1883)
  • English as she is taught (1887), also with introduction by Mark Twain[10]
  • Ingglish az she iz spelt (1885), by "Fritz Federheld" (pseudonym of Frederick Atherton Fernald)
  • English Opera as She is Wrote (1918), opera burlesque organized by Jane Joseph satirizing operatic composers like Verdi, Wagner, Debussy, which Gustav Holst participated in[11]
  • Britain as she is visit, a spoof tourist guide in a similar style to the original book, by Paul Jennings, British Life (M Joseph, 1976)
  • Elvish as She Is Spoke (2006), by Carl F. Hostetter, from The Lord of the Rings 1954–2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder (Marquette, 2006), ed. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull[12]
  • Rails as she is spoke (2012), a humorous guide about OOP problems in the Ruby on Rails web application framework, by Giles Bowkett[13]

Contemporary allusions[edit]

The phrase English as she is spoke is nowadays used allusively, in a form of linguistic play, as a stereotypical example of bad English grammar.[14]

In January 1864, then US President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward laughed as Lincoln's private secretary John Hay read aloud from the book.[15] The book has been cited as one example of many diversions that Lincoln used to lighten his heart and mind from the weight of the US Civil War and his cabinet's political infighting.[16]

The Monty Python sketch "Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook" is a take on the idea, in which a publisher created a Hungarian–English phrasebook with deliberately mistranslated phrases.[9]

The English prog rock band Cardiacs used passages from the book in their 1999 album Guns, most notably in the songs "Cry Wet Smile Dry" and "Sleep All Eyes Open."[17]

A more subtle reference occurs in Season 3, Episode 10 "The Affair at the Victory Ball" of the series "Agatha Christie's Poirot." This episode ends with Poirot offering to give Inspector Japp "my personal copy of 'The English as She Should be Spoken.'"[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The original full title is O novo guia da conversação em portuguez e inglez, ou Escolha de dialogos familiares sôbre varios assumptos,[1] archaic Portuguese for "The new conversational guide in Portuguese and English, or Choice of familiar dialogues on many subjects".


  1. ^ a b Fonseca, José da (May 29, 1855). "O novo guia da conversação, em portuguez e inglez: ou, Escolha de dialogos familiares sôbre varios assumptos". Va. J.P. Aillaud, Monlon e Ca. Archived from the original on April 19, 2021. Retrieved October 2, 2020 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ "The Collins Library: The Mystery of Pedro Carolino". Archived from the original on 2002-04-15. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
  3. ^ "The Origins of English as She is Spoke". Archived from the original on 2003-02-02. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
  4. ^ "The Evolution of 'English as She is Spoke'". Archived from the original on 2002-12-07. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
  5. ^ Fonseca, José da; Carolino, Pedro (May 29, 1855). "O novo guia da conversação, em portuguez e inglez; ou, Escolha de dialogos familiares sôbre varios assumptos;". Paris, Va. J.P. Aillaud, Monlon e Ca. – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ Mark Twain (1883). Introduction to The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English . p. 239.
  7. ^ "Scan of 1883 printed version; p. 60". Archived from the original on 2009-06-16. Retrieved 2021-06-13.
  8. ^ "English as she is spoke - Introduction to the British edition". www.exclassics.com. Archived from the original on 2021-03-08. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
  9. ^ a b Tucker Leighty-Phillips (June 29, 2016). "How a Portuguese-to-English Phrasebook Became a Cult Comedy Sensation". Atlas Obscura. Archived from the original on 2018-11-06. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  10. ^ English as she is spoke (1883) Archived 2009-06-16 at the Wayback Machine, "Related: English as she is Taught by Caroline B. Le Row (1887)."
  11. ^ Scheer, Christopher M. (2007). Fin-de-Siècle Britain: Imperialism and Wagner in the Music of Gustav Holst (Thesis). University of Michigan. pp. 162–163. CiteSeerX Archived from the original on 19 April 2021. Retrieved 16 September 2020.
  12. ^ "Elvish as She Is Spoke, by Carl F. Hostetter" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-01-20. Retrieved 2020-02-25.
  13. ^ "Rails as she is spoke web site". Archived from the original on 2014-12-18. Retrieved 2014-09-11.
  14. ^ Sampson, Rodney; Smith, Colin (1997). And now for something completely different: Dictionary of allusions in British English. Hueber. p. 324. ISBN 3-19-002468-5.
  15. ^ Seward, Frederick W. (1891). Seward at Washington as Senator and Secretary of State a memoir of his life, with selections from his letters, 1861–1872. Derby and Miller. p. 208.
  16. ^ Goodwin, Doris Kearns (2005). Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. p. 600. ISBN 978-0-7432-7075-5.
  17. ^ "Cardiacs – Cry Wet Smile Dry Lyrics". Genius. Retrieved 2023-09-05.
  18. ^ ""Poirot" The Affair at the Victory Ball". IMDb. Retrieved 2024-02-08.

External links[edit]