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This year has not been a good one for my health.

Between the Great Gally Adventure last June and July, a few nasty colds, and last week's Medication Reaction of Doom, I've missed more than my share of diaries this year.  Good little WASP that I am, I've felt horribly guilty about each and every one of these occurrences, including the diaries that I had to miss because I was, respectively, either recovering from a "back spasm" that turned out to be a gallstone attack, or recovering from the surgery that removed Gally, the Evilest Gallbladder in All St. Petersburgh Easthampton.  

Yes, really.  Thanks to my upbringing, I actually entertained thoughts of attempting to write a diary the day after I had an organ removed.  And I would have tried, too, except that that was when my surgeon decided to schedule a post-operative MRI to make sure that he'd gotten every single scrap of Gally and I wouldn't end up coming back for a second engagement under his laser scalpel in a few weeks thanks to yet more painful and very unfortunate blockages of my digestive track.

Considering that I was hopped up on pain meds and had been nourished exclusively by the IV line since Wednesday, that diary would have probably made "The Aristocrats" look about as funny as an episode of Apple's Way, let me tell you.

I had hoped that my health woes would be behind me by now, but alas, once again I have to beg your indulgence.  I'm no longer on the medication that caused such problems last week - my doctor is going to try to titrate me up to a standard dose next month, which presumably will be a lot easier on my system - but I still had a whopper of a migraine most of the week as my body recovered.

All this means that I couldn't concentrate enough to give Athansius Kircher and his valiant, doomed, hilarious attempts at translating hieroglyphics the attention they so richly deserved...

And since my mama raised me right, and since I take these diaries much more seriously than I (or anyone else) should, this means that the thrilling, chilling, epic conclusion of "Erudition and Obelisks" will have to wait until next Saturday, November 16th.  

However...not all is lost.  I'm still a WASP, and I still feel guilty about not providing you, my faithful readers, with a Saturday night chuckle or two.  That's why tonight we have a blast from the past, so step past the orange squiggly for a diary that that was first posted on July 23, 2011 and a few moments in the company of a writer who makes Athanasius Kircher, obsessed and erudite scholar, look like Marcel Proust:

The one, the only, the immortal PEDRO CAROLINO!!!!!!!

When I was in high school, I decided to take Latin, and it was all Robert Heinlein’s fault.

As I’ve recounted elsewhere, I started to read science fiction and fantasy during those liminal years between childhood and adolescence.  Oh, I read plenty of other books – this was also when my love affair with mysteries started – but the science fiction reading really kicked in during the spring and summer of 1973 when I was convalescing from a serious operation.  

I’d wakened one fine morning to find a lump the size of an egg in my groin, and by the next evening I was in the hospital undergoing surgery for what turned out to be a strangulated hernia.  And not just any strangulated hernia.  This was an inguinal hernia, which is almost unheard of in women.  Even better, the hernia itself wasn’t the customary loop of intestine, but my left ovary, which had decided to imitate a testicle and descend for reasons best known only to itself.  And since the female pelvic region isn’t designed to accommodate the sudden appearance of an internal organ the size of a walnut, the result was a hernia that took over two hours to repair.

The young resident who performed the surgery found it so unusual that he politely asked my parents if he could write me up for a pediatric surgical journal.  They were so relieved that I’d come through the operation alive and well that they probably would have agreed to have their names put on the Olde Frothingslosh ads even though Mum didn't drink, which is how I got into the scientific literature before I’d made it into high school.

It was the coolest thing that had ever happened to me, barring only the time I didn’t meet Scott Carpenter…but that’s another story, for another Saturday night.

Needless to say, the next several weeks weren’t much fun.  I might have been medically unique but I still wasn’t allowed to go back to school until after my post-surgical checkup, and since Dad had to use the family car to get to work, Mum and I were stuck home all day not doing much of anything.  Worse, I wasn’t allowed to go up and down stairs more than once a day, which meant that once I came downstairs to eat breakfast I was stuck there until it was time for bed.  I was still small enough that Dad could, and once or twice did, carry me up to my room a couple of times so I could have some privacy on Saturday afternoon, but it was far from an enjoyable time.

The one thing that made it bearable was the pile of library books Dad brought home a few days into my convalescence.  He’d decided that since I liked Tolkien I’d probably like science fiction, and accordingly brought me every book the local library possessed by Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury.  I’m not sure which book I read first, but soon I was happily inhaling The Martian Chronicles, The Caves of Steel, The Foundation Trilogy, The Illustrated Man, and The October Country.  By the time I was ready to go back to school I was hooked for life, and that summer my parents, showing remarkable patience when confronted with a child who showed no signs of interest in the usual young adult classics, signed me up for the Science Fiction Book Club.

That was also the summer that a shelf of paperbacks with lurid covers mysteriously appeared  in the dining room.  I was never specifically told “these are yours, have fun,” but after a while I cautiously picked up one called The Rolling Stones and started to read.

That was my introduction to the famous Heinlein juveniles.  These books, beginning with Rocket Ship Galileo in 1947 and continuing until Have Space Suit - Will  Travel in 1958, were Heinlein’s best known and most popular books until Stranger in a Strange Land was published in 1961.  They were intended for teenage boys and it showed in the paucity of female characters, but I was too young to notice or care.  These books were cool, and I would have given anything to have joined Castor and Pollux Stone selling flat cats to miners, or Thorby Baslim-Krausa (Rudbek) in his crusade against slavery.

I also decided that, like Kip in Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, I should take the hardest language in high school to prepare myself for college.

Kip was only able to take Spanish because of the inferiority of his high school, but I was lucky.  My high school still offered four years of Latin, and I figured that since I was going to college anyway I’d start with Latin since it was the sun source of the Romance languages and knowing amo, amas, amat could only help if I decided to learn French or Italian or Spanish later on.  I also developed a curious obsession with Cicero’s use of language, especially the famous Three Bullet Verbs in the First Oration Against Catiline, and when other girls my age were reading Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones and Go Ask Alice, I was happily reading Caesar’s Gallic Wars and chortling over how silly the great general was to have fallen for the natives’ stories about kneeless moose that toppled over and couldn’t get up in what was apparently a pre-Christian variation on cow tipping.

I haven’t read Caesar or Cicero in a very long time, but my writing still bears traces of the lessons in grammar and rhetoric I absorbed from the classics.  I also learned that I was at least partially correct in assuming that learning Latin would help if I ever tried to learn another Romance language.  I was able to make myself understood in Florence three years ago after only the barest acquaintance with an audio language course.  Even better, I was able to decipher the street signs and directions in bus terminals thanks to my lessons with Miss Fortino back in the 1970s, and I’m still able to puzzle out most classically-inspired tomb inscriptions in art books and fine mausoleums.

In short, I learned that knowing the basic vocabulary and structure of one language in a family can help immensely when trying to understand the basic vocabulary and structure of another.  It’s a valuable lesson, and if I made a fool of myself asking for a latte in Impruneta when I actually wanted a macchiato, well, blame Starbucks.

At the same time, I’m not foolish enough to think that I’m an expert in Italian simply because I studied Latin mumble years ago.  I used a translator when I needed to read the conservation report on an Italian textile for my research, and if anyone asked me to do more than give a paraphrase of The Aeneid I’d probably laugh myself hoarse.  

Would that Pedro Carolino had done the same.


English As She Is Spoke; or, A Jest in Sober Earnest, by Pedro Carolino and Jose da Fonseca.  In 1855 a Parisian publisher issued a small book entitled O Novo Guia da Conversacao em Portuguez e Inglez (The New Guide to Conversation, in Portuguese and English).  This slim volume, attributed to Jose da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino,  bore an unmistakable resemblance to an equally unremarkable Portuguese-French phrase book that had come out two years earlier under the name of da Fonseca alone.  Neither book attracted much attention, and it is entirely possible that a true masterpiece of world literature might have vanished into the stacks of a few dusty old libraries.

Fortunately for posterity, almost thirty years later someone unearthed O Novo Guia da Conversacao em Portuguez e Inglez and published it in London.  The same year American publisher Appleton & Co. decided that the New World needed its own edition of O Novo Guia da Conversacao em Portuguez e Inglez, and asked an experienced foreign traveler named S.L. Clemens to write the introduction.  Clemens, who had picked up something of a following under the pen name Mark Twain, was delighted to do so.  And so O Novo Guia da Conversacao em Portuguez e Inglez, now retitled English As She Is Spoke, appeared in Boston in 1883 with the following encomium from American’s greatest living author:

“Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow:  it is perfect.
That’s right.  Mark Twain - Mark Twain, for God’s sake! – proclaimed this book perfect.  Who am I to proclaim it a Book So Bad Its Good?

Surely it’s not thanks to the last words of the introduction:

“We expect then, who the little book (for the care what we wrote him, and for her typographical correction) that may be worth the acceptation of the studious persons, and especialy of the Youth, at which we dedicate him particularly.”
Or the useful list of common menu items found in English homes:

Some black pudding
Some sugar-plum
Some wigs
A chitterling sausage
A dainty-dishes
A mutton shoulder
A little mine
Hog fat
Some marchpanes
An amelet
A slice, steak
Vegetables boiled to a pap

Or the lovingly compiled bestiary that includes such creatures as:
Shi ass
Yeung turkey
Red-breast, a robin
Asp, aspic
A sorte of fish
Or architectural features like:
The sides of the nef
The holywater-pot
The little cellar
The boby of the church
Surely a young Portuguese speaker would find sample dialogues like this useful when traveling abroad:
For embarking one’s self.

- Don’t you fear the privateers!
- I jest of them; my vessel is armed in man of war, I have a vigilant and courageous equipage, and the ammunitions don’t want me its.
- Never have you not done wreck?
- That it is arrived me twice.

And discussing the local climate:
The weather

  -We shall have a fine weather to day.
  -There is some foggy.
  -I fear of the thunderbolt.
  -The sun rise on.
  -The sun lie down.
  -It is light moon's.

Or understanding the local jargon:
Idiotisms and Proverbs

Few, few the bird make her nest.
Nothing some money, nothing of Swiss.
Cat scalded fear the cold water.
The stone as roll not heap up not foam.
Keep the chestnut of the fire with the cat foot.
To craunch the marmoset.
To buy cat in pocket.

Even given the decline in American education, the rich imagery of the book cannot be matched:
 The thunderbolt is falling down.
  The rose-trees begins to button.
And the brilliant opacity of the text is fodder for literary critics young and old:
Dry this wine.
It must never to laugh of the unhappies.
I have been unable to learn much about either of the book’s authors, although Alexander MacBride of the UCLA Department of Linguistics has speculated that Jose da Fonseca, author of the earlier Portuguese-French phrase book, may have been the victim of an early form of identity theft.  His work, O Novo Guia da conversacao em francez e portuguez, seems to have been an unremarkable work, similar to dozens of similar language guides published in dozens of languages.  MacBride purports to find
“the ghost…of a book very different from [English As She Is Spoke]...a decent little textbook...that makes perfect sense if [English As She Is Spoke] is the product of a blind, nearly word-for-word “translation” of a sensible Portuguese/French phrasebook in English”
buried under the church bobies, rocbucks, and craunched marmosets.  

Professor MacBride may well be correct.  It’s hard to imagine any other way that “I feel sick” could become “I have mind to vomit,” or “Walls have ears” be rendered as “the walls have hearsay.”  Da Fonseca’s book, which I have been unable to find, seems to have been good enough that someone, either Pedro Carolino or someone hiding behind using that name, decided that a companion volume was in order.  Carolino may have been a publisher’s drone, a clever if not particularly well educated con man, or simply a young man on the make who managed to convince a publisher that he was fluent in English as well as French and Portuguese, and then had to prove it.  No record of just how English As She Is Spoke came to be published has ever been found, and as much as the modern reader may wish otherwise, the origins of this book, much like Shakespeare’s First Folio, must remain forever obscure.

And so it is, gentle readers, that we must conclude that both the worthy Mr. Twain and I are correct.  English As She Is Spoke is indeed perfect.  No work in English or something approximating English can match such beauties as

“I am catched cold in the brain”


“All trees have very deal bear”
for sheer inventive use of language.  And what other author, with the possible exception of James Joyce in Finnegans Wake, could create such an enigmatic, layered sentence as
“These apricots and these peaches make me and to come water in mouth”


“He burns one’s self the brains”?
At the same time, the very thing that makes English As She Is Spoke such a brilliant original also makes it So Bad It Is Good.  Where else can the reader can find a book so utterly unconcerned with correct spelling, grammar, or idiotisms idioms?  What other book so closely resembles the glories of Google Translate?  Has any other author, at any time, in any English speaking country, attempted to pass such a creation off as a serious work?

Is there any other book that is such an utterly perfect example of a Book So Bad It’s Good?


And so, my friends - was this enough for you to forgive me?  Or will I actually, really, genuinely have to write Captain America, Socialist Scum! to appease you?  Provide pictures of Gil the Wonder Cat doing his best imitation of a woolly bear caterpillar as he snores his way through life?  I promise to be better (and, God and the angels willing, healthier in the coming weeks and months, I really do, pinky swear....


Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:

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Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Originally posted to Ellid on Sat Nov 09, 2013 at 04:19 PM PST.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers.

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