In 1855 Pedro Carolino set out to write an English phrasebook for Portuguese travelers visiting England. The only problem was that he couldn’t speak English. Undeterred by this minor setback, Carolino decided to base his guide on a respected Portuguese–French phrasebook written by José da Fonseca. He took the French translations of Portuguese, and used a French–English dictionary to translate those to English.
The result was an unintentional comedy of literal translation, as English phrases like “the walls have ears” became “the walls have hearsay” (via the Portuguese as paredes têm ouvidos), and “waiting for someone to open the door” became “to craunch the marmoset” (via a ridiculous misreading of archaic English, and the shape of the grotesque door knockers popular at the time).
The entire guide was quite large, and not only was it of no practical use as an actual phrasebook, but its length made it too much of a slog to appeal as a comedy. But its legend slowly grew, until in 1883 it was republished in an abridged form as a book of humor titled English as She Is Spoke (a phrase which, incidentally, doesn’t appear in the book itself). The abridged edition, taking the comedic highlights from the long and tedious original, is the edition that became famous. This Standard Ebooks edition is based on that abridgment.
The book’s absurd mistranslations were said to have made Lincoln laugh aloud when read to him by his secretary John Hay, and Mark Twain said 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.”