English As She Is Spoke

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English As She Is Spoke
O novo guia da conversaçao en portuguez e inglez 1ere edition.jpg
AuthorJosé da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino
Original titleO novo guia da conversação em portuguez e inglez
LanguagePortuguese and English
Genrephrase book
PublisherJ.P. Aillaud
Publication date
Media typePrint
TextEnglish As She Is Spoke at Wikisource

English As She Is Spoke is the common name of a 19th-century book written by Pedro Carolino, and falsely additionally credited to José da Fonseca, which was intended as a PortugueseEnglish conversational guide or phrase book, but is regarded as a classic source of unintentional humour, as the given English translations are generally completely incoherent.

The humour appears to be a result of dictionary-aided literal translation, which causes many idiomatic expressions to be translated wildly inappropriately. For example, the Portuguese phrase chover a cântaros is translated as raining in jars, whereas an idiomatic English translation would be 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 English As She Is Spoke.[1][2][3]

Cultural appraisals and influence[edit]

Mark Twain said of English As She Is Spoke 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."[4]

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'?"[5] 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",[6] with croquer referring to the "knocking" or "rapping" sound, and marmot, a term for the grotesque door knockers in vogue at the time. The term is presumably inspired by the marmot's large teeth, as many of the grotesque door knockers were figures holding the knocker clasped in their teeth.

Tristan Bernard wrote a very short comedy with a similar name, L'Anglais tel qu'on le parle. Ionesco's La Cantatrice Chauve is mostly made of language conversation book lines used out of context.

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 feel sick.
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.

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 catalogue number L.686P. Another copy of this book is in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France) under the catalogue 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 catalogue 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[7]
  • Ingglish az she iz spelt (1885), by "Fritz Federheld" (pseud. of Frederick Atherton Fernald)
  • Britain as she is visit, a spoof tourist guide in similar style to the original book, by Paul Jennings, British Life (M Joseph, 1976)
  • Rails as she is spoke (2012), a humorous guide about OOP problems in the Ruby on Rails web application framework, by Giles Bowkett[8]

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.[9]

The book has been cited as one example of many diversions that President Abraham Lincoln used to lighten his heart and mind from the weight of the Civil War and his cabinet's political infighting.[10]

The Monty Python sketch "Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook" is a take on the idea, in which a publisher created a Hungarian-English phrasebook with deliberately mis-translated phrases.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Collins Library: The Mystery of Pedro Carolino". Archived from the original on 2002-04-15. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
  2. ^ "The Origins of English as She is Spoke". Archived from the original on 2003-02-02. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
  3. ^ "The Evolution of "English as She is Spoke"". Archived from the original on 2002-12-07. Retrieved 2009-01-15.
  4. ^ Mark Twain, Introduction to The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English (1883) p. 239.
  5. ^ "Scan of 1883 printed version; p. 60". Retrieved 2009-06-14.
  6. ^ http://www.exclassics.com/espoke/espk1.htm
  7. ^ English as she is spoke (1883), "Related: English as she is Taught by Caroline B. Le Row (1887)."
  8. ^ Rails as she is spoke web site
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ How a Portuguese-to-English Phrasebook Became a Cult Comedy Sensation, by Tucker Leighty-Phillips, at Atlas Obscura; published June 29, 2016; retrieved December 24, 2018

External links[edit]