Monday, 18 May 2009

Tales from the Academy – English as she is spoke

Cadets for whom English is not their mother tongue soon acquire a working knowledge of the language, particularly the vernacular. Young men are not always pure of thought or word and their speech is often littered with expletives and epithets.

One cadet, however, had difficulties in learning the correct use of English. Unfortunately he was somewhat arrogant and rather a know-all and as such irritated his fellow cadets. If they tried to help him or correct his mistakes he would lose his temper and shout. One day, irate and frustrated, eyes bulging with rage, almost foaming at the mouth, he jabbed his finger angrily at the young men around him and spluttered, 'You . . . you . . . you . . . you think I know f***-nothing! I tell you, I know f***-all!'

From Wikipedia: English as She Is Spoke is the common name of a 19th century book credited to José da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino, which was intended as a Portuguese-English conversational guide or phrase book, but is regarded as a classic source of unintentional humour.

The humour appears to be a result of dictionary-aided literal translation, which causes many idiomatic expressions to be translated wildly inappropriately. For example, the Portuguese phrase chover a cântaros is translated as raining in jars, whereas an idiomatic English translation would be raining buckets.

Mark Twain said of English as She Is Spoke 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."[

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