Podcast Episode 58: English as She Is Spoke

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Watrous_discussion.jpg

In 1855 Pedro Carolino decided to write a Portuguese-English phrasebook despite the fact that he didn’t actually speak English. The result is one of the all-time masterpieces of unintentional comedy, a language guide full of phrases like “The ears are too length” and “He has spit in my coat.” In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll sample Carolino’s phrasebook, which Mark Twain called “supreme and unapproachable.”

We’ll also hear Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” rendered in jargon and puzzle over why a man places an ad before robbing a bank.

Sources for our feature on Pedro Carolino’s disastrous phrasebook:

English as She is Spoke: Or, A Jest in Sober Earnest, 1883.

(This edition, like many, incorrectly names José da Fonseca as a coauthor. Fonseca was the author of the Portuguese-French phrasebook that Carolino used for the first half of his task. By all accounts that book is perfectly competent, and Fonseca knew nothing of Carolino’s project; Carolino added Fonseca’s name to the byline to lend some credibility to his own book.)

The Writings of Mark Twain, Volume 6.

Carolino’s misadventure inspired some “sequels” by other authors:

English as She Is Wrote (1883)

English as She Is Taught (1887)

As long as we’re at it, here’s Monty Python’s “Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook” sketch:

Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy rendered in jargon, from Arthur Quiller-Couch’s On the Art of Writing (1916):

To be, or the contrary? Whether the former or the latter be preferable would seem to admit of some difference of opinion; the answer in the present case being of an affirmative or of a negative character according as to whether one elects on the one hand to mentally suffer the disfavour of fortune, albeit in an extreme degree, or on the other to boldly envisage adverse conditions in the prospect of eventually bringing them to a conclusion. The condition of sleep is similar to, if not indistinguishable from, that of death; and with the addition of finality the former might be considered identical with the latter: so that in this connection it might be argued with regard to sleep that, could the addition be effected, a termination would be put to the endurance of a multiplicity of inconveniences, not to mention a number of downright evils incidental to our fallen humanity, and thus a consummation achieved of a most gratifying nature.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Lawrence Miller, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

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Inside Out

Some Morse code “inversions,” sent in by reader Dave Lawrence:

ADMITTED / TIZZY ·- -·· -- ·· - - · -·· (- ·· --·· --·· -·--)
ALLOTTED / TROPHY ·- ·-·· ·-·· --- - - · -·· (- ·-· --- ·--· ···· -·--)
ANIMATED / NAMELY ·- -· ·· -- ·- - · -·· (-· ·- -- · ·-·· -·--)
ATTENTION / DRYEST ·- - - · -· - ·· --- -· (-·· ·-· -·-- · ··· -)
ATTESTED / BONY ·- - - · ··· - · -·· (-··· --- -· -·--)
DEMENTED / JURY -·· · -- · -· - · -·· (·--- ··- ·-· -·--)
DETESTED / AGONY -·· · - · ··· - · -·· (·- --· --- -· -·--)
EMBITTER / DEMOUNT · -- -··· ·· - - · ·-· (-·· · -- --- ··- -· -)
ENTIRETY / COPED, TROWEL · -· - ·· ·-· · - -·-- (-·-· --- ·--· · -··)
ESTEEMED / TOADY · ··· - · · -- · -·· (- --- ·- -·· -·--)
ETERNITY / YAWNED · - · ·-· -· ·· - -·-- (-·-- ·- ·-- -· · -··)
EXTREMEST / TAXATION · -··- - ·-· · -- · ··· - (- ·- -··- ·- - ·· --- -·)
FINNIEST / TYCOON ··-· ·· -· -· ·· · ··· - (- -·-- -·-· --- --- -·)
IDENTITY / GORGED ·· -·· · -· - ·· - -·-- (--· --- ·-· --· · -··)
IMPACTED / GRANARY ·· -- ·--· ·- -·-· - · -·· (--· ·-· ·- -· ·- ·-· -·--)
INTERNEE / GYRO ·· -· - · ·-· -· · · (--· -·-- ·-· ---)
MEDIATED / FOGEY -- · -·· ·· ·- - · -·· (··-· --- --· · -·--)
NAVIGATE / POPPA -· ·- ···- ·· --· ·- - · (·--· --- ·--· ·--· ·-)
NINETEEN / ATTEMPT -· ·· -· · - · · -· (·- - - · -- ·--· -)
NOSTALGIA / LAMENTATION -· --- ··· - ·- ·-·· --· ·· ·- (·-·· ·- -- · -· - ·- - ·· --- -·)
NOVELIST / LAMPOON -· --- ···- · ·-·· ·· ··· - (·-·· ·- -- ·--· --- --- -·)
STATEWIDE / OREGANO ··· - ·- - · ·-- ·· -·· · (--- ·-· · --· ·- -· ---)
TEAMSTER / ADAMANT - · ·- -- ··· - · ·-· (·- -·· ·- -- ·- -· -)
TEETERED / EMPTY - · · - · ·-· · -·· (· -- ·--· - -·--)
TEETERING / ANGORA - · · - · ·-· ·· -· --· (·- -· --· --- ·-· ·-)
TITTERED / PANTY - ·· - - · ·-· · -·· (·--· ·- -· - -·--)
TOUGHEST / SPITTOON - --- ··- --· ···· · ··· - (··· ·--· ·· - - --- --- -·)
TUCKERED / PARTWAY - ··- -·-· -·- · ·-· · -·· (·--· ·- ·-· - ·-- ·- -·--)
UPMARKET / QUICKEN ··- ·--· -- ·- ·-· -·- · - (--·- ··- ·· -·-· -·- · -·)
WHITENED / DOORMAT ·-- ···· ·· - · -· · -·· (-·· --- --- ·-· -- ·- -)
WINNOWED / NAKEDLY ·-- ·· -· -· --- ·-- · -·· (-· ·- -·- · -·· ·-·· -·--)

Also, and apropos of nothing, every date this week is a palindrome when written in the American month-day-year format:

5/10/15
5/11/15
5/12/15
5/13/15
5/14/15
5/15/15
5/16/15

This continues into next Tuesday. (Thanks, Lane.)

Local Color

Unusual names recorded in the American South by University of Florida linguist Thomas Pyles, 1986:

Oleander Lafayette Fitzgerald III
Ed Ek
Shellie Swilley
Early Hawaiian McKinnon
Sandy Gandy
Earl Curl Jr.
Percy Nursey
Rev. Fay de Sha
Lovie Slappey
Esperanza Le Socke
Pamela Gay Day
Staff-Sgt. Mehogany Brewer
Girlie Burns
Fawn Grey Trawick Dunkle
Alure Sweat
Bloomer Bedenbaugh
Martha Magdalene Toot
Okla Bobo
Melody Clinkenbeard

Cowboy Pink Williams served as lieutenant governor of Oklahoma from 1955 to 1959. And “The children of Mr. Stanford Bardwell, a realtor and a graduate of Louisiana State University, and his wife Loyola, are Stanford, Jr., Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Auburn, and the twins Duke and T’lane. When the Bardwells go on holiday they travel in a specially equipped school bus called the ‘Collegiate Caravan.'”

(Thomas Pyles, “Bible Belt Onomastics or Some Curiosities of Anti-Pedobaptist Nomenclature,” in Names and Their Varieties, American Name Society, 1986.) See Roll Call and Pink Labels.

Misterioso

In his 1772 Treatise on the Art of Decyphering, Philip Thicknesse suggests a scheme for hiding messages in musical compositions:

https://libraries.mit.edu/collections/vail-collection/topics/communication/cryptography/

At the bottom of the page is an example. “If a musick-master be required to play it, he will certainly think it an odd, as well as a very indifferent, composition; but neither he, or any other person, will suspect that the notes convey also the two following harmonious lines from Dr. Goldsmith’s poem The Deserted Village“:

Near yonder cops where once the garden smil’d,
And still where many a garden-flower grows wild.

Thicknesse suggests that two players might even use this scheme to carry on a conversation in real time. “It is certain that two musicians might, by a very little application, carry on a correspondence with their instruments: they are all in possession of the seven notes, which express a, b, c, d, e, f, g; and know by ear exactly, when either of those notes are toned; and they are only to settle a correspondence of tones, for the remaining part of the alphabet; and thus a little practice, might enable two fiddlers to carry on a correspondence, which would greatly astonish those who did not know how how the matter was conducted. Indeed this is no more than what is called dactlylogy, or talking on the fingers, which I have seen done, and understood as quick, and readily almost, as common conversation.”

Sound Rhymes

Peculiarly English limericks:

There was a young lady named Wemyss,
Who, it semyss, was troubled with dremyss.
She would wake in the night,
And, in terrible fright,
Shake the bemyss of the house with her scremyss.

A pretty school-mistress named Beauchamp,
Said, “These awful boys, how shall I teauchamp?
For they will not behave,
Although I look grave
And with tears in my eyes I beseauchamp.”

There was a professor of Caius
Who measured six feet round the knaius;
He went down to Harwich
Nineteen in a carwich,
And found it a terrible squaius.

There lived a young lady named Geoghegan,
The name is apparently Peoghegan,
She’ll be changing it solquhoun
For that of Colquhoun,
But the date is at present a veoghegan. (W.S. Webb)

An author, by name Gilbert St. John,
Remarked to me once, “Honest t. John,
You really can’t quote
That story I wrote:
My copyright you are infrt. John.” (P.L. Mannock)

See This Sceptred Isle.

In a Word

quisquilian
adj. worthless, trivial

noncurantist
adj. marked by indifference

diversivolent
adj. desiring strife

On April 18, 1930, in place of its 6:30 p.m. radio news bulletin, the BBC announced, “Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” It filled the time with two minutes of piano music.

In 2010 computer programmer William Tunstall-Pedoe sifted 300 million facts about “people, places, business and events” and determined that April 11, 1954, was the single most boring day in the 20th century.

He told the Telegraph, “Nobody significant died that day, no major events apparently occurred and, although a typical day in the 20th century has many notable people being born, for some reason that day had only one who might make that claim — Abdullah Atalar, a Turkish academic.

“The irony is, though, that — having done the calculation — the day is interesting for being exceptionally boring. Unless, that is, you are Abdullah Atalar.”

(Thanks, Duncan.)

Misc

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marienkirche_in_Bergen_auf_R%C3%BCgen.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons
  • The clock face on the Marienkirche in Bergen auf Rügen, Germany, has 61 minutes. Does this mean time moves more slowly there — or more quickly?
  • To ensure quiet, poet Amy Lowell hired five rooms at every hotel — her own and those on either side, above, and below.
  • A perplexing sentence from a letter by Dorothy Osborne, describing shepherdesses in Bedfordshire, May 1653: “They want nothing to make them the happiest people in the world but the knowledge that they are so.”
  • OVEREFFUSIVE is a palindrome in Scrabble — its letter values are 141114411141. (Discovered by Susan Thorpe.)
  • The sum of the digits of every multiple of 2739726 up to the 72nd is 36. (E.M. Langley, Mathematical Gazette, 1896)
  • I’ll bet I have more money in my pocket than you do. (Of course I do — you have no money in my pocket!)
  • In 1996 a model airplane enthusiast was operating a remote-controlled plane in Phoenix Park in Dublin when the receiver died and the plane flew off on its own. It flew five miles to the northeast, ran out of fuel, and glided to a landing … on the taxi-way to Runway 28 at Dublin Airport.

(Thanks, Brian and Breffni.)

In a Word

toffs and toughs

fastuous
adj. haughty, arrogant, pretentious, or showy

alabandical
adj. barbarous, uncivilized

floccipend
v. to regard as insignificant or of no account

In 1937 photographer Jimmy Sime caught sight of five boys outside Lord’s Cricket Ground during the annual Eton vs. Harrow match. Peter Wagner and Tim Dyson were Harrow students awaiting a ride to the Wagners’ country home in Surrey, and George Salmon, Jack Catlin, and George Young were working-class boys who had spent the morning at the dentist and hoped to earn some money running errands at Lord’s.

Sime’s photo filled three columns of the News Chronicle‘s front page on July 10 under the headline “Every Picture Tells a Story.” It has been reprinted widely since as an illustration of the British class system, sometimes with the title Toffs and Toughs.

In 1998, journalist Geoffrey Levy tracked down Young and Salmon, then in their 70s, and asked whether they’d resented the Harrow boys. “Nah,” Young said. “We had our lives, they had theirs.” Salmon said, “In those days you accepted what you were and what they were, and got on with it.”