English As She is Spoke

Thanks to TRP, I have discovered a pick-me-up that’s almost better than any Mills & Boon I’ve read so far. (Speaking of Mills & Boons, this month’s lot is terribly disappointing. They better up their game. Otherwise, at this rate, I’ll end up having to write my own version of a pulpy romance.) Allow me to present to you the unending pleasures of English As She is Spoke, a book that Mark Twain described in these words: “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect.”

The book was intended to help Portuguese speakers master English or, at the very least, manage in England. A sort of “Teach Yourself English”, if you will. I earnestly hope it was popular among its target audience because the idea of a bunch of Portuguese chaps waddling their way through 19th century London saying things like, “He do the devil at four”, or “I am pinking me with a pin”, or “Witch prefer you?”, or “The rose trees begin to button” is just sublime. Those, incidentally, are from the section of English As She is Spoke that is titled “Familiar Phrases”. Familiar to whom? To Senhor Pedro Carolino, the gent who compiled this book. “Familiar Phrases” is no doubt meant to be a list of useful phrases though I’m at a loss about the situation in which you might need to say “It must never to laugh of the unhappies”. Or “All trees have very deal bear”, for that matter. Some of the sayings are quite contemporary, like, “Why you no helps me to?”.

Then there are the “Familiar Dialogues.”

Is your master at home?

Yes, sir.

Is it up?

No sir he sleeps yet.

I go make that he gets up.

There are certain situations in which I imagine that dialogue would take place. I just expect one of the characters in that dramatis personae to be named “Wench”, rather than Senhor Pedro Carolino.

Carolino is unexpectedly poetic when it comes to talking about the weather:

We shall have a fine weather to day.

There is some foggy.

I fear of the thunderbolt.

The sun rise on.

The sun lie down.

It is light moon’s.

This is the love child of Basho and Rimbaud, I tell you.

There’s also a section titled “Idiotisms and Proverbs”, which really is the only way to sum up sentences like, “Keep the chestnut of the fire with the cat foot”. At the end, there’s an advertisement for a book by one Oliver B. Bunce, titled Bachelor’s Bluff. If anyone finds it, please do share.

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