Lost in Translation

Pedro Carolino thought he was doing the world a favor in 1883 when he published English As She Is Spoke, ostensibly a Portuguese-English phrasebook. The trouble is that Carolino didn’t speak English — apparently he had taken an existing Portuguese-French phrasebook and mechanically translated the French to English using a dictionary, assuming that this would produce proper English. It didn’t:

It must to get in the corn.
He burns one’s self the brains.
He not tooks so near.
He make to weep the room.
I should eat a piece of some thing.
I took off him of perplexity.
I dead myself in envy to see her.
The sun glisten?
The thunderbolt is falling down.
Whole to agree one’s perfectly.
Yours parents does exist yet?

A dialogue with a bookseller:

What is there in new’s litterature?
Little or almost nothing, it not appears any thing of note.
And yet one imprint many deal.
That is true; but what it is imprinted. Some news papers, pamphlets, and others ephemiral pieces: here is.
But why, you and another book seller, you does not to imprint some good works?
There is a reason for that, it is that you canot to sell its. The actual-liking of the public is depraved they does not read who for to amuse one’s self ant but to instruct one’s.
But the letter’s men who cultivate the arts and the sciences they can’t to pass without the books.
A little learneds are happies enough for to may to satisfy their fancies on the literature.

An anecdote:

One eyed was laied against a man which had good eyes that he saw better than him. The party was accepted. “I had gain, over said the one eyed; why I see you two eyes, and you not look me who one.”

Proverbs:

The walls have hearsay.
Nothing some money, nothing of Swiss.
He has a good beak.
The dress don’t make the monk.
They shurt him the doar in the face.
Every where the stones are hards.
Burn the politeness.
To live in a small cleanness point.
To craunch the marmoset.

Mark Twain wrote, “In this world of uncertainties, there is, at any rate, one thing which may be pretty confidently set down as a certainty: and that is, that this celebrated little phrase-book will never die while the English language lasts. … Whatsoever is perfect in its kind, in literature, is imperishable: nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect, it must and will stand alone: its immortality is secure.”

About Face

It was British wordplay expert Leigh Mercer who coined the classic palindrome “A man, a plan, a canal — Panama” in Note & Queries on Nov. 13, 1948. He later said that he’d had the middle portion, PLAN A CANAL P, for a year before he saw that PANAMA fit.

Mercer published 100 palindromes in N&Q between 1946 and 1953 — a selection:

See, slave, I demonstrate yet arts no medieval sees
Now Ned I am a maiden won
Here so long? No loser, eh?
Trade ye no mere moneyed art
Ban campus motto, “Bottoms up, MacNab”
No dot nor Ottawa “legal age” law at Toronto, Don
Now ere we nine were held idle here, we nine were won
Egad, a base life defiles a bad age
“Reviled did I live,” said I, “as evil I did deliver”
I saw desserts, I’d no lemons, alas, no melon, distressed was I
Sue, dice, do, to decide us
Sir, I demand — I am a maid named Iris
No, set a maple here, help a mate, son
Poor Dan is in a droop
Yawn a more Roman way
Won’t lovers revolt now?
Pull a bat, I hit a ball up
Nurse, I spy gypsies, run!
Stephen, my hat — ah, what a hymn, eh, pets?
Pull up if I pull up

… and the remarkably natural “Evil is a name of a foeman, as I live.”

Mercer didn’t confine himself to palindromes — he also devised this mathematical limerick:

mercer limerick

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Is nine squared and not a bit more.

In a Word

marabou
n. a person who is five-eighths black and three-eighths white by descent

griff
n. a person who is three-fourths black and one-fourth white

mulatto
n. a person having one white and one black parent

The ultimate in racist lunacy was reached in Haiti in the eighteenth century, where Saint-Mery developed a classification of physical types based on the notion that each individual was divisible into no less than 128 separate parts (rather like genes):

‘Thus a blanc (white) had 128 parts white, a nègre (Negro) 128 parts black, and the offspring a mulâtre (mulatto) 64 parts white and 64 parts black. In addition, he also listed sacatra (8 to 23 parts white), griffe (24 to 39 parts white), marabou (40 to 48); quateron (71 to 100); metif (101 to 112); mamelouc (113 to 120); quateronné (121 to 124) and finally a sang-mêlé (125 to 127).’

Given the additional presence of Indians as well as Negroes, Mexican castas were even more complex.

— Peter Worsley, The Three Worlds: Culture and World Development, 1984

Misc

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parrish_Hall.jpg

  • SWARTHMORE is an anagram of EARTHWORMS.
  • The sum of the reciprocals of the divisors of any perfect number is 2.
  • We recite at a play and play at a recital.
  • Is sawhorse the past tense of seahorse?
  • “Things ’twas hard to bear ’tis pleasant to recall.” — Seneca

In Book II, Chapter 9, of H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds, a sentence begins “For a time I stood regarding …” These words contain 3, 1, 4, 1, 5, and 9 letters.

(Thanks, Dheeraj.)