“Whatsoever is perfect in its kind, in literature, is imperishable: nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect, it must and will stand alone: its immortality is secure.” –Mark Twain
Mark Twain, 19th-century author and humorist, did not earn his fame from being unable to utilize English in enthralling ways. And today, we pay homage to Mr. Twain. But we are not here to discuss the quality of his work; instead it’s to nod in agreement with his assessment of another classic.
Pedro Carolino had aspirations. Europe is relatively small, and packed with mutually unintelligible languages. Surely, there would be a market for an accessible, competent Portuguese-to-English phrasebook. Mr. Carolino had a hurdle to overcome, however. He had yet to fuss with the “being fluent at English” part, and preferred to minimize time-to-market of his in-demand product. Fortunately, he could use the work of a prior trailblazer to smooth his own path:
1. Get a decent Portuguese-to-French phrasebook. Fortunately, this work had been done by José da Fonseca.
2. Use a French-to-English dictionary to “translate” the book…
3. Publish and claim da Fonseca as a “co-author” to boost the book’s credibility! What could go wrong?
Let’s ignore the small grammatical awkwardness in the title, “The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English”. (It’s better known as “English as She is Spoke”)
The lack of quality control starts early, in the “Defects of the body” section. “A left handed”, “an ugly” and “a blind” are very economical, both getting the message across in English and demonstrating the author’s lack of understanding of how English speakers actually communicate.
The “Trades” section looks passable, until you realize “Chinaman” isn’t a necessarily a paying profession.
Carolino was smart to have started the book with one- and two-word phrases, to try to lull the reader into a false sense of confidence. His attempts to teach us full phrases and conversations “burns one’s self the brains”.
Maybe he was just really hungry, and should have had his fellow ask him “I you do not eat?”, before publishing. Maybe he was writhing in pain and should “take attention to cut you self”. (Bleeding out would be a fair excuse for a lower quality of work).
In all fairness, to use the English expression, “If can’t to please at every one’s”. And Carolino’s failure to try to please everyone has granted him a form of immortality I can only envy.
Fortunately, this book is old enough to be in the public domain! You can read it on Google Books for free! (Starts on page 5, and it really ramps up on page 17, when Carolino attempts to teach the reader full English sentences).
So go “cranuch the marmoset” and let us know your favorite phrases!