How a Portuguese-to-English Phrasebook Became a Cult Comedy Sensation

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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 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.

Mark-Twain-a-fan-of-English-As-She-Is-SpokeFor 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.”

English as She Is Spoke is a charming book created by a gentleman who only wanted to help teach the English language to his peers, but instead created a literary disaster that became a linguistic phenomenon. The book has been republished a number of times, the most recent edition printed in 2004 by Collins Library. (A scan of an 1884 pressing can be viewed for free at the Public Domain Review.)

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