English as She Is Spoke by José Da Fonseca & Pedro Carolino, edited by Paul Collins. McSweeney’s Books, 1855.
Sarah: In 1855, two Portuguese guys decided to write a Portuguese-English phrasebook, the drawback being that neither of them spoke English and neither had access to any Portuguese-English dictionaries. So they used a Portuguese-French dictionary and and French-English dictionary to create their phrasebook.
S: And they published it. This is a reprint of that book, which immediately became an early comedy hit. Because it is hilarious.
G: Unintentionally hilarious?
S: Unintentionally hilarious. You do have to remember… well, like when you read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and you think “Well, this isn’t that spooky,” but it was the first one. Sometimes if it limps a little, you have to remember it was the original. And this was before machine translation, so they were doing this by hand. It’s artisinal translation.
G: Are we at the point where we’re calling translations artisinal? That’s kind of sad.
S: This has been reprinted constantly…
G: Out of copyright?
S: Yes. Mark Twain thought it was hilarious, wrote about it a lot. It started this whole genre of things like hilarious exam paper answers, unintentional hilarity. This edition was reprinted by McSweeney’s. I got it in 2001, and there’s a 2004 paperback edition.
G: I’m excited about this. I saw some incredibly crappy English textbooks when I was teaching in South Korea.
S: This is a list of common phrases… and I was wondering: these are common where?
G: “These apricots and peaches make me and to come water in mouth.”
S: So maybe it was originally something like mouth-watering, but whaaaat?
“These shades are very agreeably.”
G: OK! “Lay down on the grass.” I once had a Korean textbook, and the first phrase I learned in Korean for a class I took at the Y was “Central Meteorological Observatory.”
G: It’s the central weather station in Seoul, I think.
S: Yeah! The things people put in as the important phrases to know!
G: So every time our teacher needed an example, “Where are you going?” “I am going to the Central Meteorological Observatory.” My Korean students always thought it was funny that I knew that word. I would use it as example of crappy English, why I was teaching the way I was. You don’t know these things! Why should you say any of that? I’m not going to teach you places in my hometown, that’s not going to be helpful to you!
S: Yeah. So in some of these…
G: “He has spit in my coat!”
S: … it gets worse. It starts off with, “He laughs at my nose, he jest by me.”
G: “He has me take out my hairs.” “He does me some kicks.”
S: “He make them on purpose.”
G: “He give me a box on the ear.”
S: So in some ways, these phrases go along with a theme like the weather, then all of a sudden Oh no! You’re being attacked by some guy!
G: It’s very strange.
S: For reasons relating to your nose? Then there’s dialogues: For to Visit the Sick. They discuss his symptoms. “Live me see your tongue. Have you pain to the heart?” “Yes, sir, some times.”
G: “I have thursty (sic) often.”
The medicine is made of “Rhubarb and tartar cream, etc.” (laughs)
S: Which sort of points to the fact that this was 1855, rhubarb and tartar cream were things that would be in medicine. So some of it’s weird from translation and some of its weirdness from 1855.
G: Who bought this? Who paid money for this? “With a Bookseller”
S: This is about where I realized that this is “My hovercraft is full of eels.”
S: Remember the Monty Python sketch where a guy with a really bad phrasebook is trying to talk to a shopkeeper?
G: No. I stopped watching the Monty Python TV show before I could quote it. I can only quote the movies.
S: So in this dialogue a guy starts off buying a book and then ends up complaining that books are crappy.
S: Why don’t you carry any better books, bookseller?
G: “The actual liking of the public is depraved they does not read who for to amuse one’s self ant but to instruct one’s.” OK! I hope that makes sense in Portuguese.
S: Damn the reading public!
G: “At the Dentist”
S: Then there’s “Idiotisms and Proverbs.”
G: “Take the moon with the teeth.”
S: “He sleep as a marmot.”
G: “He has a good beak.” “He go to four feet.”
S: “To build castles in Espagnish.”
G: “Nothing some money, nothing of Swiss.”
S: So these are things you can say to people and they’ll nod, knowingly.
G: Let’s see what Google translate says that Portuguese phrase is in English. (types) It says it’s “For money the dog.”
S: “He sleep as a marmot” translates as “sleep as a dormouse.”
G: Is there an English proverb that’s like “sleep like a dormouse?”
S: No. Sleep like a top. Sleep like a log.
G: “Sleep like a top?”
S: Yeah, you’ve never heard of sleep like a top?
G: That’s not a thing.
S: I maintain that it is.
G: I’ve never heard of that.
S: Maybe I’m making it up. You’ll never know.