In 1855, when Jose da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino wrote an English phrasebook for Portuguese students, they faced just one problem: The didn’t know any English. All they had was a Portuguese-to-French dictionary, and a French-to-English dictionary. The linguistic train wreck that ensued is a classic of unintentional humor, now revived in the first newly selected edition in a century.
In Paul Auster’s interview with the New York Times, he answered the question: What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
“English as She Is Spoke: The New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English,” by Pedro Carolino, first published in America in 1883, with an introduction by Mark Twain. As Twain puts it, “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book,” and indeed it is ridiculous — 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.”