English as she is spoke: The new guide of the conversation in Portuguese and English in two parts, by Pedro Caroline (Jose da Fonseca)


Michael Gorman

University of Illinois

We expect then, who the little book (for the care what we wrote him, and for her typographical correction) that may be worth the expectation of the studious persons, and especially of the Youth, at which we dedicate him particularly. With these words, Jose da Fonseca closed his introduction to the most famous and enduring of fractured English phrase-books. It was first published in Paris in 1855 and has been republished many times under its original title and, more commonly, under the title English as she is spoke. The first American edition of the book (“reprinted verbatim and literatim” in Boston in 1883) contained an introduction by Mark Twain, who wrote that “this celebrated little phrase-book will never die while the English language lasts ... it is perfect ... its immortality is secure.” Fonseca's sublime ridiculousness is not much read now, yet I am as sure as was Twain that its season will come again and that other generations will rejoice in its unique humor.

There is a great difference between the humor that arises from the simple misuse of language and that which arises from the kind of naive, serious-minded, and, ultimately, inspired assault on its richness typified by Fonseca's phrase-book. I once stayed in a Grenoble hotel room which was decorated with the alarming instruction “In case FIRE, avert the boots.” I soon realized that it was not my footwear that had to be warded off, but that the message stemmed from a combination of the belief that avertir translated as `avert' and the use of a French-English dictionary dating back to the time of the lowly hotel servant known as “the boots.” I recalled then my first acquaintance with English as she is spoke and, not for the first time, relished the incredible variety of our language and the unconsciously hilarious results caused by its use by less than fluent speakers and writers.

There are classic phrases from other European phrasebooks. My favorites are the familiar “Stop, the postilion has been struck by lightning!” and the less familiar, but richer in social nuance, “Unhand me Sir, for my husband, who is an Australian, awaits without.” Even these gems are single lines from otherwise ordinary works. In the case of Fonseca's book, every page has its memorable lines. He seems to have been incapable of phrasing even the most simple idea without some happy misconjunction of words. The peculiar felicity of his lists, phrases, and conversations came from his rooted belief that he was a master of the English language and had a mission to spread the advantages of that mastery to others.

The book has two main parts. The first consists of lists of words and phrases in Portuguese and English accompanied by their English pronunciations. These lists are found under such headings as “Of the man,” “Some wines,” and “Drinkings.” The second consists of “Familiar dialogues” in English and Portuguese under such headings as “For embarking one's self,” “With the gardener,” and “With a eating-house keeper.” The book is rounded out by various small appendices, of which my very favorite (and the most sublimely Fonsecaian) is the section headed `Idiotisms and proverbs.” Any one of these idiotisms is perfect in itself, but they can be divided into the hilariously loony and the cryptic. Examples of the first are

The walls have hearsay

According to thy purse rule thy mouth

Big head, little sens

He is beggar as a church rat

The wisdom of these last phrases is not obscured by the peculiarity of their expression. On the other hand, it takes a very wise head to tease the meaning out of:

Nothing some money, nothing of Swiss

He steep as a marmot

Take the moon with the teeth

Cat scalded fear the cold water

Which like Bertram, love hir dog

He turns as a weath turcocl

However, before one can move on to a mastery of English idiotisms, it is necessary to learn more basic words and phrases. For example, consider the “Properties of the body,” among which one finds:

Drowsiness, Yawn, Contortion, Lustiness, Sneesing,

Belch, Watching

Armed with these basic concepts, one can then proceed to the “Defects of the body,” such as;

A blind, A hump, A left handed, A squint-eyed,

The scurf

Knowing the body, its properties and defects, one can begin to think about more concrete matters, such as food and drink. For this one needs “For the table”:

Some plates, The bottle, Some knifes, Some groceries,

Some crumb

and “Eatings,” such as:

Some boiled meat, Some fritters, A stewed fruit, Some jelly broth, Some wigs, A chitterling sausages, Some dainty dishes, A litl mine, Hog fat

With such a repast one would have such “Drinkings” as:

Some brandy, Some orgeat, Champaign wine, Some paltry wine

I should pause here to note that Fonseca had a number of singular theories about English. These theories were more or less what one would expect of a man who thought that Chinaman was a trade; they included the ideas that a and an were masculine and feminine articles, respectively, and that some was a plural article, as in “Some garlics.” He also appears to have believed it to be the masculine third person singular pronoun.

To return to his lists, we find the “Quadruped's beasts” such as:

Shi ass, Dragon, Young rabbit, A mule and “Fishes and shell fishes,” such as:

Bleak, Calamary, Muscles, Hedge-hog, A sorte of fish, Torpedo

If one were fortunate enough to catch any of these quadruped's beasts or fishes, one would no doubt cook them with “Seasonings”:

Some wing, Some pinions, Some hog'slard or “Pot-herbs,” such as:

Some succory, Some cabbages, Some corianders

When one's appetite and thirst are satisfied, there are such games to play as:

Gleek, The billiard table, Carousal, Pile, Even or non even.

One of the most useful features of Fonseca's phrasebook is the phonetic transcription of English pronunciation given next to the English words and phrases. It is my private conviction that these pronunciations formed the basis for the unique accent used by the late Peter Sellers in his characterization of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther series of films. Take, for example, Fonseca's pronunciation for one of his most creative Englishisms-the eatable Some wigs. The phonetic equivalent is “Seume uigues.” In those letters one can read the very essence of Clouseau, as one can in the phonetic transcription of Gun-powder (Guenepau'-der).

The “studious Portuguese and brazilian Youth” to whom Fonseca addressed his great work will, no doubt, have spent many studious hours learning the words and phrases in the first part before approaching the second part with understandable trepidation, for the second part was to build on their acquaintance with the English conversation. Understandably, the author introduced them gently. The first dialogue “For to wish the good morning” contains such staples of conversation as:

--Good morning, sir, how do you do today?

--Very well, I thank you

--To much oblige to you

--He is very well

--I am very delight of it. Were is it?

--He is in country

--Give a seat to the gentilman

--It is not necessary, it must go to make a visit hard by

--You are too in haste

Perhaps one wishes to make a morning visit:

--Is your master at home? Is it up?

--No sir, he sleep yet

--I go make that he get up

--How is it, you are in bed yet?

--Yesterday at evening, I was to bed so late that I may not rising me soon that morning

--Well! what have you done after the supper?

--We have sung, danced, laugh, and played

--What game?

--To the picket

--I am no astonished if you get up so late

--Adieu, my deer, I leave you. If can to see you at six clock to the hotel from ***, we swill dine together

A strong personality emerges from these dialogues. It is that of an inquisitive, fussy, but congenial and clubbable soul, a sort of Portuguese Pepys delighting in gossip and food and wine and company. For instance, “With a hair dresser”:

--Master hair dresser, you are very lazy. If you not come sooner, I shall leave you to

--Shave-me

--Your razors are them well?

--Comb-me quickly; don't put me so much pomatum.

--What tell me? all hairs dresser are newsmonger

One can see all his qualities in “For to ask some news”:

--Is it true what is told of master M***?

--I have heard that he hurt mortally

--I shall be sowow of it, because he is a honestman

--Which have wounden him?

--Two knaves who have attacked him

--Do know it why?

--The noise run that is by to have given a box on the ear to a of them

--I believe it not

--Are you too many amused to the ball last night?

--Plenty much, and Madame L*** has call for me your news

and in “For to dine”:

--Sit down here by me. Do you like soup?

--Gentilman, will you some beans?

--Peter, uncork a Porto wine bottle

--Sir, what will you to?

--A pullet's wing

--I trouble you to give me a pear

--This seems me mellow

--Taste us rather that liquor, it is good for the stomach

--I am too much obliged to you, is done

Fonseca's studious youth were not to be contented with a mastery of English. Other European languages were of concern to them:

--How is the french? Are you too learned now?

--No too much, I know almost nothing

--They tell howeuver that you speak very well

--These which tell it they mistake one's

--Not apprehend you, the french language is not difficult

No matter how difficult these languages might be to acquire, a man with a command of foreign tongues was a man to be envied:

--How is that gentilman who you did speak by and by?

--Is a German

--I did not think him Englishman

--He is of the Saxony side speak the french very well

--Tough he is German, he speak so much well italyan, Spanish and english, that among the Italyans they think him Italyan, he speak the french as the Frenches himselves. The Spanishesmen believe him Spanishing, and the Englises, Englisman.

--It is difficult to enjoy well so much several languages

Even the linguistic paragon discussed in the previous dialogue could well be at a loss for words when presented with an unsatisfactory horse by a rascally servant. Not so the Fonseca of “For to ride a horse”:

Here is a horse who have a bad looks. Give me another; I will not that. He not sall know to march, he is pursy, he is foundered. Don't you are ashamed to give me a jade as like? he is undshoed, he is with nails up, it want lead to the farrier. He go limp, he is disable, he is blind. That saddle shall hurt me. The stirrups are too long, very shorts. Stretch out the stirrups, shorten the stirrups. The saddles girths are roted, what bat bridle? Give me my whip. Fasten the cloak-bag and my cloak

Having disposed of the thoroughly chastened servant and the blind horse, one could journey forth into the country to do “The fishing”:

--That pond it seems me many multiplied of fishes. Let us amuse rather to the fishing

--Here, there is a wand and some hooks

--Silence! there is a superb perch! Give me quick the rod. Ah! there is, it is a lamprey

--You mistake you, it is a frog! dip again it in the water

--Perhaps I will do better to fish with the leap

--Try it! I desire that you may be more happy and more skilful who acertain fisher, what have fished all day without to can take nothing

If the disappointments of the fishing are too much to take or if one were unfortunate enough to fall in the water while dipping a frog, it could become necessary “For to swim”:

--Sir, do you row well?

--He swim as a fish

--I swim on the cork. It is dangerous to row with bladders, becauses its put to break

--I row upon the belly on the back and between two waters: I know also to plunge

--I am not so dexterous that you

--Nothing is more easy than to swim; it do not what don't to be afraid of

--Tel undress us

--The weather it is cloudy it lighten, I think we go to have storm

--Go out of the water quickly

But life cannot be entirely devoted to pleasure. The sordid realities of life can impel even this devotee of food and fun to have dealings “With a banker”:

--I have the honour to present you a ex-change letter draw on you and endorsed to my order

--I can't to accept it seeng that I have not nor the advice neither funds of the drawer

--It is not yet happened it is at usance

--I know again the signature and the flourish of my correspondent; I will accept him to the day of the falling comprehend there the days of grace, if at there to that occasion I shall received theirs orders

No doubt baffled by this reply, the client resorts to a simpler monetary request:

--Would you have so good as to give me some England money by they louis?

--With too much pleasure

There are many other examples of how to manage the commerce and pleasures of the world and, if, by any remote chance, these should fail the aspiring English speaker, he or she can reflect on higher matters expressed so well in familiar idiotisms. For example, who could fail to find solace and wisdom in the saying “After the paunch comes the dance”?

Fonseca's book ends, with perfect appropriateness, with an absolutely useless index. However, it would do him an injustice to close on such a negative note. Much more suitable as an epitome of his friendly philosophy and love of language and learning is this passage from “With a bookseller”:

--But why, you and another book seller, you does not to imprint some good works?

--Ther is a reason for that, it is that you cannot sell its. 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

--But the letter's men who cultivate the arts and sciences they can't to pass without the books

--A little learneds are happies enough for to may to satisfy their fancies on the literature

Amen to that, speaking as one happy learned whose fancies have been satisfied often by this marvelous book.