In 1855, Pedro Carolino published an English phrasebook for Portuguese speakers, O Novo Guia da Conversação em Portuguez e Inglez.
The only problem was that he didn’t actually speak English. But that didn’t stop him.
Using another author’s Portuguese-to-French phrasebook as his source material, Carolino translated it word for word with a French-English dictionary.
The result was an unintentionally hilarious compilation of nonsensical expressions that got lost in literal translation. The book includes such gems as “I am catched cold in the brain,” “the stone as roll not heap up not foam,” and “to craunch the marmoset,” whatever that means.
Carolino’s inept translation quickly found amused fans in the English-speaking world, where his book was mockingly retitled English As She Is Spoke. In his introduction to the 1883 American edition, Mark Twain wrote, “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book… it is perfect.”
But what if Carolino had been a scientist instead?
Science is a form of translation too, in which theories and equations tell nature’s story in a language we can understand. Our species’ ability to parse the physical world into scientific phrases has allowed us to split the atom, cure ...