Friday, January 20, 2017

There's an eel in my politics.

> From Monty Python's Dirty Hungarian phrasebook sketch

I came across the "classic of unintentional humor," 
 English as She Is Spoke, 
in "Paul Auster: By the Book" (NYT 1-12-17).

Abraham Lincoln used to read it to cheer himself up in the face of the Civil War and cabinet woes, reports Doris Kearns Goodwin in Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005).

I laughed so hard reading about it, I thought I'd cobble together Auster & Wikipeida for you here, on the last morning of Obama's presidency. (I hope he has a copy too.)

English as She Is Spoke: The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English, by Pedro Carolino, was published in the United States in 1883, with an introduction by Mark Twain. 
Twain wrote, “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect."

Intended to be a Portuguese–English phrase book, it appears to be a literal translation of a Portuguese–French phrase book (which was correct) into English, with gobbledygook results. 
(This is an internet game: using Google Translate, change a phrase from English to Finnish to Chinese and back again.) 

Stephen Pile mentions this book in The Book of Heroic Failures:  
"Is there anything in conventional English which could equal the vividness of 'to craunch a marmoset'?"

"'To craunch the marmoset', an entry under the book's 'Idiotisms and Proverbs,' is the translation of the French slang idiomatic expression croquer le marmot, meaning 'waiting patiently for someone to open a door'.
"Croquer refers to knocking, and marmot was a term for door knockers in vogue at the time. The term is presumably inspired by the marmot's large teeth, as many of the  knockers were figures clasping the knocker in their teeth."
Paul Auster says, the book is "a guide to English written by someone who had not the slightest grasp of the language. More than a hundred pages filled with such sentences as: 

“You have there a library too many considerable, it is a proof your love for the learnings” or 
“Nothing is more easy than to swim; it do not what don’t to be afraid of.” 

The book is pure Dada, and as Twain writes, “its immortality is secure.”


Frex said...

P..S. I looked it up: "craunch" is in Websters--it means "crunch."

The Crow said...

Okay, okay...I will get through this day of infamy by coming back here, repeatedly, to read again your funniest of posts.

Thank you for this!

ArtSparker said...


Anonymous said...

It reminds me of the German couple in Casablanca:
“Sweetnessheart. What watch? Ten Watch. Such much?”