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English As She is Spoke

Humor is a wonderful thing and those best at making us laugh make it seem so easy—perhaps because it is—for them! But humor, easy or spontaneous, often comes about quite unintentionally. This applies to funny book titles too. They might be put into several categories.

Humorous Books — Into this cubicle belong books humorously titled because, well, because they’re humorous books, essays, or actual joke books. Examples of this most straight-forward category include:

The first of these titles isn’t exactly easy to read (our bad). The title, by Dave Barry, is Babies and Other Hazards f Sex: How to Make a Tiny Person in Only 9 Months, with Tools You Probably Have Around the Home. That title, incidentally, qualifies as a nice example of a modern long title too.

Accidental Humor — Serious books about serious matters, but funny when their titles leave room for misunderstanding, make up a category too. Some examples of these are:

All three of the titles shown are those of serious works — although the titles strike most of us as funny. The first, by John W. Trimmer, is the advice of a ship captain who wearied of maneuvering his large vessels out of the way of smaller craft. The second, edited by P. McSweeney, is a technical work. The third is subtitled Teach Your Horse to be Confident, Obedient, and Safe No Matter What You Encounter. It is by Rick Peligano.

Catchy Humor — Then, there are books the titles of which are intentional plays on word—clever ways to catch the eye and to signal a certain lightness of tone. Examples here include the entire series of Bed & Breakfast Mysteries by Mary Dahein. Her novels include such titles as A Streetcar Named Expired, Saks & Violins, Wed and Buried, Auntie Mayhem, and Snow Place to Die—to name just a few of her dozens of titles.

Other such titles include:

We got the three titles above from a longer list of similarly funny mystery novels we found on this blog.

It is, of course, impossible to pick a winner among funny titles or funny books, but a great favorite around here, a book that genuinely deserves the label classic, is English As She is Spoke, purporting to be a serious handbook for Portuguese who wish to learn English. The book was written by José da Fonesca and Pedro Carolino, originally published in 1833. The story behind this excruciatingly funny book is an equally humorous tale. The original of this idea was actually a Conversational Guide produced by da Fonesca in garbled French, again supposedly for Portuguese. As this book was in preparation (it issued in 1836), da Fonesca met Carolino, a very funny writer himself, and they decided to collaborate on an English equivalent.

Two excerpts from Her Seconds Part (Vol. 2 of the English version, the cover of which we show here, along with the “French” original) follow, the first from the Introduction:

A little consideration of the shaping of our author’s English phrases leads to the conclusion that the materials used have been a Portuguese-French phrase-book and a French-English dictionary. With these slight impedimenta has the daring Lusitanian ventured upon the unknown deep of a strange language, and the result, to quote again from the Preface, “May be worth the acceptation of the studious persons, and especially of the Youth, at which we dedicate him particularly,” but will at all events contribute not a little to the Youth’s hilarity.

This next item is an offer of phrases to use on the occasion of…

For to dine.

The soup is bringed.
Sit down here by me.     Do you like soup?
I eat every thing.
Cut that turkey how you like that pardridge?
It is excellent.


Title images courtesy of Amazon.com with two exceptions. English As She is Spoke is a photograph of a copy in our collection. The “French” original is from Wikipedia.


2 Responses

  1. “How to Avoid Huge Ships” reminds me of one evening on San Francisco Bay with me, Jeff Harm, and Bruce the Arsonist in Bruce’s sailboat when we were dead-set on tying up in SF in time to catch the end of happy hour and pretty sure that our sailboat was faster than that really enormous container ship.

    Man, we coulda used a copy of that book. I might still have hair on my head.

  2. […] by The Editors We’ve dealt with the titling of books in various places on DPP, most broadly here, and with that in mind we’ll take note of catchy, meaningful, and clever titles as they come into […]

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