Tag Archives: Grammar

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An app to help improve your writing style

This Web App Identifies Unnecessary Words In Your Writing

Expresso is a little tool to edit texts and improve your writing style. It will teach you to express yourself through writing more efficiently and help make your texts more readable, precise, and engaging.

I often complain that authors don´t pay enough attention to spelling and grammar and publish books without proper editing. Although I understand that editing can be expensive and not all authors can afford it, it does not change the fact that a book needs proofreading and some editing before publishing. For those that can´t afford a professional editor this might be a useful tool worth trying.

As a native Portuguese speaker I can certainly see the humour in this

How a Portuguese-to-English Phrasebook Became a Cult Comedy Sensation

Meet 1883’s most absurd language guide.

Mark Twain, a fan of English As She Is Spoke. (Photo: Library of Congress/LC-DIG-ds-05448)

In the middle of the 19th century, a relatively unknown author named Pedro Carolino rapidly gained intercontinental popularity over a small Portuguese-to-English phrasebook. English as She Is Spoke (or O novo guia da conversação em portuguez e inglez) was originally intended to help Portuguese speakers dabble in the English tongue, but was penned by a man who spoke little to no English himself. And, instead of helping Portuguese speakers learn a second language, it became a cult classic for fans of inept and unintentional humor.

It quickly gained notoriety among English speakers, including author Mark Twain, who wrote the introduction for the first English edition, published in 1883. Twain endorsed the book, saying “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect.”

The cover for O Novo Guia de Conversação, em Portuguez e Inglez, em Duas Partes. (Photo: Public Domain)

It is presumed that Carolino wrote the book through the aid of a Portuguese-to-French dictionary and a French-to-English dictionary, using the former for an initial translation of a word or phrase from Portuguese, and the latter to convert it from French into English. The result, of course, is a mishmash of cloudy gibberish.

For instance, the second chapter is titled “Familiar Phrases,” and features sentences intended to help the weary Portuguese traveler in everyday conversation. These phrases include classics like “He has spit in my coat”; “take that boy and whip him to much”; and the oft-used “these apricots and these peaches make me and to come water in mouth.”

The book opens with a preface written in an idiosyncratic style of English. It details the book’s intended audience, stating that it “may be worth the acceptation of the studious persons, and especially of the Youth, of which we dedicate him particularly.” Perhaps predictably, English as She Is Spoke did not become popular among Portuguese-speaking students. In fact, it was never published in Portugal, although it did find an audience 133 years later in Brazil, when it was released as a comedy title.

A photochrom of the Tower of London, 1890. The book, published in 1855, was intended to help Portuguese speakers to improve their English language skills. (Photo: Library of Congress/LC-DIG-ppmsc-08566)

Literary journals, small newspapers, and other niche groups helped spread the word about Carolino’s work before it was given its first proper release as a humor book, first in Britain in 1883, and then in the United States later that year. Endorsements by esteemed writers like Twain and James Millington helped the unusual phrasebook grow a fanbase, and it subsequently received many requests for republishing. The book is even rumored to be the inspiration for the popular “Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook” skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The book itself is a guessing game of intention and phrases contorted in the unorthodox translation process. If English as She Is Spoke is to be believed, trade occupations might include Coffeeman, Porkshop-Keeper, and Chinaman. The list of aquatic life noted under the heading “Fishes and Shell-Fishes” features well-known sea creatures like the Wolf, the Hedge-hog, and a Sorte of Fish. The section entitled “Games” is even more open to interpretation: the listed games include Mall, Pile, and Keel. (The book is often falsely attributed to Jose Da Fonseca, a popular linguist of the time period, but many believe that Carolino listed him as a co-author to give the work more credibility.)

The title page for English As She is Spoke. (Photo: Public Domain)

There is also a section featuring potential dialogues for everyday situations, such as visiting the dentist, purchasing a book, or visiting a sick family member. Of course, the conversations are mostly incomprehensible, but the chapter closes on an ironic high note, in this discussion about learning a language:

“Do speak French alwais?”
“Some times: though I flay it yet.”
“You jest, you does express you self very well.”

Perhaps the most notorious section of the book is an aptly named chapter entitled “Idiotisms and Proverbs,” which again features phrases that careen between barely understandable and completely nonsensical. Examples of Carolino’s twice-translated proverbs include: “nothing some money, nothing of Swiss”; “friendship of a child is water into a basket”; “take out the live coals with the hand of the cat”; and simply “to fatten the foot.”

The translations of idioms and proverbs. (Photo: Public Domain)

review of the baffling phrasebook in an 1860 volume of Harvard Magazine opens with a disclaimer stating that the magazine is not intending to insult readers’ intelligence by publishing such excerpts, asserting that they “speak for themselves.”The work in question “purports to be a ‘New Guide to Conversation in the Portuguese and English Tongues,’” the reviewer dryly comments, but “No one, I think, will feel disposed to question its title to novelty.”

English as She Is Spoke is a charming book created by a gentleman who only wanted to help teach the English language to his peers, but instead created a literary disaster that became a linguistic phenomenon. The book has been republished a number of times, the most recent edition printed in 2004 by Collins Library. (A scan of an 1884 pressing can be viewed for free at the Public Domain Review.) Sadly, this was Pedro Carolino’s only published work, although it is an accidental piece of transcendent art with a legacy that has lasted centuries.

One could ponder why Carolino took on the task of creating a phrasebook in a language he did not speak, but sometimes it is better not to look a gift horse in the mouth; or as Carolino says, “a horse baared don’t look him the tooth.”

20 Wonderful British Words

1.

Shag is such a great word it’s hard to believe America has survived for several hundred years without it. What do Americans say when they need to tell someone they’ve had, or intend to have, carefree sex with someone? “Did you have sex with him?” – so cold, so clinical. “Did you shag him?” “Yes, and it was a terrible disappointment.” Many shags are.

2.

One of those beautiful British words that can be applied to a plethora of circumstances. Burned the onions? “Bollocks.” What do you think of The X Factor? “Bollocks.” Listened to that incredibly pissed bloke in the pub? “Everything he said was utter bollocks.” You probably have to spend some time here to fully grasp the nuance, but try it out and see how you go.

3.

Just gorgeous. Calling someone a numpty is damning, but without the aggressive edge of “wanker”, “prick”, or “dickhead”. It’s basically a cosy, amicable way to indicate that someone has failed on every level.

4.

Just much funnier than the word “toilet”, and 100% more down-to-earth than “bathroom”. And don’t even go there with “little lady’s room”.

5.

Pooping is for children. If “he pooped”, he should be under 10. Shitting, and the past-tense “shat”, are for grownups. “Massive night last night?” “Yep, shat myself.” Welcome to Britain.

6.

This wonderful word originates from the Scottish word “ming”, meaning excrement. “Minging” and the related noun “minger” are often employed to describe someone you regret shagging or would never shag because they are so minging. It could also be applied to something found rotting at the back of the fridge.

7.

Again, it is hard to understand how America has got by without this on-point word to describe a long, wet kiss. If you say you’ve kissed someone it could be anything from a formal peck on the cheek to a full-on session with whirling tongues and tsunamis of saliva. Say that you “snogged” someone and everything’s clear.

8.

I dunno, maybe Americans say “bigmouth”? But gobshite is so much better. Just a couple of lovely, rubbery, dirty-sounding syllables to ram home the fact that someone talks a load of shit.

9.

If someone spends too much time being a gobshite, they might turn into a twat. Someone who calls a girl a minger could be a twat. Someone who shags around is probably a twat. Feel for the poor Americans that don’t get to enjoy using the word twat like us Brits do.

10.

America just doesn’t get the word pants. For Americans pants are like chinos. Dads wear pants to the office (a hilarious concept for many British people). But as well as meaning knickers or “panties”, pants has another even better use over here, and that is to describe something that is not good at all. That is lame. Like, you’d say that Batman v Superman was pants.

11.

A vital, essential word called upon several times a day to describe literally anything if you can’t remember its name. “Pass the thingamajig.” “He was with thingamajig.” “Ooh, it’s over by the thingamajig.” Can be contracted to “thingy” when you can’t even remember the word thingamajig.

12.

Another terrific word, similar in meaning to “pants” but perhaps even more fun to say. It’s more of a northern thing here in the UK, and nobody really knows where it comes from, although it probably has something to do with cotton mills that presumably had a lot of bobbins lying around. Most Johnny Depp films in recent years have been utter bobbins.

13.

American’s might have recently discovered this very special, very British word after MP Victoria Atkins branded Donald Trump a “wazzock” in a debate in the House of Commons. There couldn’t really be a better definition of the word wazzock than “Donald Trump”.

14.

This word would come in useful to Americans who need a new way to describe frat boys. They’re all pissheads.

15.

In America this is known as jerking off or jacking off, which are nowhere near as versatile as “wank”. In Britain you can have a wank, be a wanker (another word for a wazzock), and you can also decree something to be wank. Kale crisps (kale chips?) for instance, are total wank.

16.

Not the same as minging, but similar. Manky suggests something that’s old and probably stained or smelly. Your boyfriend’s week-old socks are manky. A damp towel left on the bathroom floor is definitely manky. It’s an incredibly useful word that no Brit would want to live without.

17.

Wally is probably your uncle Walter if you live in America. If you are British your uncle probably is a wally, even though he’s called Alan. Wallies are uncool. They’re goofy. They wear Winnie-the-Pooh socks and dance really, really badly to Taylor Swift at parties. Then they say “Tay’s cool” before tripping on the edge of the carpet and spilling their punch down their shirt. But we love Uncle Alan despite his wallyishness. Wallies are mostly quite nice.

18.

Your uncle Wally is also a massive plonker.

19.

In America a cackhanded person would be called butterfingers, which is frankly just a bit too kind. Your hands aren’t covered in butter, they are covered in cack – i.e. poo – and that’s why you keep dropping things all the time, you cackhanded numpty.

20.

Literally the tip of a penis.

English is difficult…?

Over the years I have met many Portuguese people that either they or their parents immigrated to English speaking countries, the most common result is that the following generation born in said country no longer speaks Portuguese. Our “mother tongue” is Portuguese, we speak it at home, with friends and family. Child 1 went to Portuguese school first and then later to an English school. She did university in Portuguese and now wants to go to chef school…. in English. Child 2 is still in  a Portuguese school, her English is okay, not brilliant but she can have a conversation. One day she too will transfer to an English school. The reason for doing this is because Portuguese is so damn difficult to learn. My sisters and I went to English schools but we always spoke Portuguese at home, there were no Portuguese schools where we lived (in the middle of nowhere) but my mother taught me how to read Portuguese either reading recipes for her in the kitchen while she cooked or with my father´s Asterix & Obelix books. Tintin, Blake and Mortimer and Ric Hochet were where I practiced my new gained skills.

Today I have an extra language that I can´t speak but can read, I need it for work. So for five days a week I work with three different languages. Where did this rant come from? My expat colleague´s have to learn Portuguese, the official language in this country… my heart goes out to them.

Why would someone who has a native language not teach it to their child? Some languages are a nightmare to learn, English is amongst the easier ones. If you are a non-English speaker, be kind to your children and teach them English on the side, it is essential but so is keeping our roots and the knowledge of our language. Besides it won´t do any harm on their cv when one day they are sitting in front of a potential boss in an interview.

The picture below´s title (if you don´t read Portuguese) is I don´t study English because it is  difficult and beneath you have the conjugation of the verb “DO” in both languages.

I think I made my point!

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