Did a 19th Century Phrasebook Inspire Monty Python?

By March 2, 2017Language, Literature

In the 1800s a Portuguese man named Pedro Carolino gave a brave attempt to write a phrasebook for those learning the English language.

‘English as She Is Spoke’, or ‘O novo guia da conversação em portuguez e inglez’, was supposed to help those with Portuguese as a mother tongue to converse with English speakers. The only problem was that the writer spoke little English himself, and the end result of his clumsy translations was just a little strange… 

(Image of original book cover from public domain)




It is assumed that the Pedro Carolino used two separate dictionaries to complete his book- first a Portuguese to French translator, then French to English. This would certainly explain why the language is a tad off-course. The translations were so poor and nonsensical that the book soon became famous, and instant cult classic, reaching as far as Mark Twain in the USA. Twain even wrote the introduction for the first English edition in 1883:

“Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect.”

Below are a list of some of the ever-so-slightly-not-perfect phrases within the book… Can you spot where he went wrong?

I wonder whether this now-infamous book was the inspiration behind the classic Monty Python’s Flying Circus “Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook” sketch?

Take a look and see for yourself…

Would you, or any language lovers you know, would get a kick out of this quirky piece of history? If so, it is still very much available!

Buy ‘English As She Is Spoke’ here: 

US
UK




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