About This Show
Hosted by Greg and Sharon Ross, Futility Closet is a celebration of the quirky and the curious, the thought-provoking and the simply amusing. This podcast is an audio companion to the popular website that catalogs more than 8,000 curiosities in history, language, mathematics, literature, philosophy, and art. In each episode we explore intriguing finds from our research, share listener contributions, and tackle an entertaining puzzle.
Most Recent Episode
058-English as She Is Spoke
4 days ago
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