English as She Is Spoke

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, as the "English" translations provided are usually inaccurate or incoherent, it is regarded as a classic source of unintentional humour in translation.

English as She Is Spoke
O novo guia da conversaçao en portuguez e inglez 1ere edition.jpg
AuthorJosé da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino (credited)
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

The humour is largely a result of Carolino's indiscriminate use of literal translation; this causes many idiomatic expressions to be 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 English as She Is Spoke.[2][3][4]

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

Cultural appraisals and influenceEdit

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."[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. 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. "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". See croquet.

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 examplesEdit

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 think I might 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.

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: "Sook here if I knew to tame hix" and "It want to have not any indulgence with the bat baffoons".

Publication historyEdit

  • 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 titlesEdit

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" (pseud. 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 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 allusionsEdit

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, President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward laughed aloud 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 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 mis-translated phrases.[9]

The English 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."[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  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, Introduction to The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English (1883) p. 239.
  7. ^ "Scan of 1883 printed version; p. 60". Archived from the original on 2009-06-16. Retrieved 2009-06-14.
  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 How a Portuguese-to-English Phrasebook Became a Cult Comedy Sensation Archived 2018-11-06 at the Wayback Machine, by Tucker Leighty-Phillips, at Atlas Obscura; published June 29, 2016; 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.

External linksEdit