BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN
Your Name and Deeds Do Not Keep From Shining
By Angus Johnston
Do not harm the birds.
The doorkeeper is at the door.
These radios are much better than the one I sold you.
Charles William Terrell was born in Pôrto Alegre, Brazil, on June 28, 1902. The son of missionaries, he was educated in Brazil, the United States, and New Zealand.
In Brazil one cannot sleep early because of the
We found the man lying down in the street, with a bullet in his heart.
Why have you not a book and a magazine?
Terrell served in the American navy and the Cana-dian
merchant marine and eventually returned to Brazil, where he taught English
and wrote. His publications included a textbook (O Ingles Practico),
two English-Portuguese dictionaries, and a biogra-phy of his father (A
Vida Do Egrégio Doutour James Milas Terrell).
It is my farm.
It is my fault.
There is no jesting with edge tools
Perhaps his most compelling work, however, was his Dictionary of Commonest Phrases (Dicionário Frases Mais Comuns). Divided into English-into-Portuguese and Portuguese-into-English sections, the Dictionary was published by Gráfica Editôra Aurora as a compact paperback in 1952.
Have you no relatives in Germany?
My samples are delayed.
Your name and deeds do not keep from shining.
The organization of Terrell’s Dictionary is strictly alphabetical—from “A cup of hot coffee will do nicely” to “Your work is over (finished) (ter-minated)” in the English-to-Portuguese section, and from “A água congelu” (“The water froze”) to “Vou viajar hoje” (“I am going to travel today”) in the Portuguese-to-English. This arrangement has a certain surface logic to it, and at times produces unexpected felicities—
She is an artist.
She is at home.
She is crazy.
She is driving me mad.
She is downstairs.
She is engaged to him.
She is five years old.
She is gone forever
—the eight lines reproduced above appear consecutively in the text. But the book’s lack of topical structure can make it frustrating to use as a reference. Consider these phrases:
A good singer can sound all the notes in the clef
of two octaves.
Do you like a pen that is soft or do you prefer a hard one?
Have you examined the magneto?
However useful they might prove (at the concert hall, the stationers’, or the magneto repair shop, respectively), it’s hard to imagine that any traveler would be likely to locate them in a timely fashion.
He pretends that he is lame.
She did not see me, or else she did not wish to speak with me.
They have about ten matches each.
The vast majority of the book’s phrases begin with a pronoun or an article. The Dictionary contains twelve pages of phrases beginning with the word “he,” five pages’ worth beginning with the word “she,” and twenty-nine pages—more than eight hundred phrases in all—beginning with the word “I,” from “I accept your invitation” to “I would rather walk.”
I am glad that the war is over.
I have a monkey and a parrot.
I must take that step in order to win
One is left wondering how Terrell intended the book to be used. As an exercise, let’s suppose that I’ve hitchhiked down Brazil’s Atlantic coast as far as Niterói, and that I want to catch the ferry across the bay to Rio so I can get a flight back to the States. If I know where the ferry terminal is, I’m in luck — with the Dictionary at the ready, I won’t have any trouble at all determining the price of a ticket:
How much do I pay?
How much do I owe you?
How much do you charge?
How much do you charge for this?
How much do you want?
How much does it cost?
How much is it?
How much is the fare?
Any one of those would do, in a pinch. So far, so good. But let’s say my flight’s leaving soon, and I’m anxious about the ferry schedule. If start by looking under “What time…” I find this:
What size plate do you use?
What time is it?
What trimming would you like?
Not much help. Looking under “When…” is a bit more fruitful—it gives me “When does the train start (leave)?” among other things, and that’s likely close enough if I’m at the terminal. If I have to get directions to the terminal itself, though, I’m probably going to need the word for “ferry.” Unfortunately, the “F” section is no use at all:
Fetch me that suit-case.
That’s it — there’s nothing at all between “far” and “fet.” No “ferry these items across the river, if you would,” no “ferries are an economical form of water-based transport.” (No “fasten your seatbelts” or “fate has brought us together” or “feign death until he leaves the room,” either.) “Where is the ferry” would be an obvious solution, but it’s a dead end, as is “Where can I find the ferry?” An entry under “Where can I…” looks promising, at first—
Where can I get a bus (taxi) (train) (airplane) (heli-copter) (ship) (street-car) (horse) (bicycle) (pair of skates) (buggy) (waggon) (cart) (motor-boat) (row-boat) (sail-boat) (motorcycle) (car)?
—but it too ultimately disappoints. Ah, well.
Fiz o melhor possivel. (I did my very best.)
São horas de ir para cama. (It is time to go to bed.)
O vento està soprando muita forte. (The wind is blowing very hard.)
Quer dar-me por favor o enderêço de uma boa pensão? (Will you please give me the address of a good rooming house?)
Angus Johnston lives in Brooklyn, and can be reached at email@example.com. His name and deeds do not keep from shining.
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