They Thought You'd Say This: Unlikely phrases from real phrasebooks

I've always been fascinated by phrasebooks; my parents like to tell the story of my trying to talk to an Italian couple in Syracuse at the age of seven, using nothing but Berlitz Italian. Phrasebooks offer the seductive illusion of mastering a language at little cost— flip the pages and handle any situation, from booking a room to going on a date to setting a broken leg.

Mostly they are little marvels of pragmatic compression. But for that very reason, I like to find the occasional oddity— sentences you can hardly conceive of ever using, little tidbits of inexplicability in an otherwise ruthlessly disciplined little work.

All the following sentences are culled from real phrasebooks. (As opposed to a fake phrasebook.)

—Mark Rosenfelder


Lonely planet 1998
Can we film here?
Zarā ham yahã: filming kar lē?
Do you practice safe sex?
Kyā āp kānḍam kā istemāl [karte/kartī] haĩ?
Is there compulsory voting here?
Kyā sabhī logõ ko voṭ dena: paṛtā hai?
I believe in destiny/fate.
Maĩ bhāgyavādī hũ̄.


Berlitz Russian for Travellers 1973
I can't do the cha-cha.
Ja ne umeju tantsevatj cha-cha-cha.
I want a specimen of your urine.
Ja vozjmu u vas mochu na analiz.
I'd like to buy a pair of binoculars.
Ja khotel by kupitj binoklj.
I would like some game or fowl.
Ja by vzjal dichi ili ptitsy.
Here's to future cooperation between our organizations!
Za nashe budushchee sotrudnichestvo!
I'd like to go to a Komsomol party.
Ja khotel by pojti na komsomoljskij vecher.


Berlitz Portuguese for Travellers 1970
Why are you laughing?
Porque está a rir?
Must I swallow them whole?
Devo engoli-los inteiros?


Follett pocket dictionary 1966; Say It In German
I want to rent a deck-chair.
Ich möchte einen Liegestuhl mieten.
Drive us around for one hour.
Fahren Sie eine Stunde herum!
Use insecticide.
Gebrauchen Sie Insektenvertilgungsmittel.


Vietnamese Phrasebook 1976
Because I was out buying a pair of wooden shoes.
Vi³ toi məc² mua dɔi³ guoc².
Take me to the Protestant church.
Dya toi den² ña³ tʰɯ³ Tin⁵-Lañ³.
There will be no trouble.
Khong saɔ dɯu.
I like to sleep a lot.
Toi tʰich ngu⁴ ñieu³.


Say It In Swedish 1979
Have you something more attractively furnished?
Har Ni något som är trevligare möblerat?
Let's take a walk around the botanical garden.
Låt oss ta en promenad i botaniska trädgården.
Clean and set this wig.
Vill Ni tvätta och lägga den här peruken?


Say It In Yiddish 1958
Please play a foxtrot.
Shpilt, zayt azoy gut, a fɔkstrɔt.
The firm is bankrupt.
Di firme iz bankrɔt.
I need something for a tourniquet.
Ikh darf epes oyf a turniket.


Lonely Planet
I have my own syringe.
Saya punya suntikan saya sendiri.


Penguin Polish phrasebook
What do we pay for the children?
Ile placimy za dzieci?
How does the heating work?
Jak dziala ogrzewanie?
The villa has been burgled.
Bylo wlamanie do willi.
May I have peas instead of beans?
Czy moge, prosić o groszek zamiast fasolki?
Is evening dress necessary?
Czy strój wieczorowy jest konieczny?
I will X-ray your teeth.
Prześwietlȩ panu zȩby.


Harrap's Greek phrasebook
I'm absolutely knackered.
Eímai ptóma stin koúrasi.
He swims like a fish.
Kolumpáei san delfíni.


Barron's Spanish at a glance; Burgess & Bowes Midget Dictionary
I have the highest card.
Tengo la carta más alta.
Is it customary to dine there as well?
¿Se puede comer allá también?
When does the parade of the bullfighters begin?
¿Cuándo empieza el desfile de la cuadrilla?
I just want to stretch out in the sand.
Sólo quiero estirarme en la arena.
Is your husband here?
¿Está aquí su esposo?
She was born on the 5th July, 1884.
Nació el 5 de Julio de 1884.
I want the latest edition with gilt edges.
Deseo la última edición con cantos dorados.
Where is my rug?
¿Dónde está mi manta?
Have you found your sea legs?
¿Ya no se marea?


Lonely planet
What is your monthly salary?
wôl-gûp-i ôl-ma-im-ni-kka?
Don't smoke!
dam-bae p'i-u-ji ma-ship-ship-yo!
Who lived here?
nu-ga sal-ass-jûm-ni-kka?


This person saw it happen.
Deze persoon heeft het gezien.
We're having a terrible time.
We hebben het helemaal niet naar onze zin.
I'm going to prescribe some suppositories.
Ik geef u een recept voor zetpillen.


Fingertip Chinese
I can't bear Shanghai in August.
Wǒ shòubùliǎo Bāyuède Shànghǎi.
How much rent do you pay?
Nǐ fāngzū shì duōshǎo?
Do you eat this?
Nǐ chī zhège ma?
I play the clarinet.
Wǒ lá dānhuángguǎn.
The countryside looks very poor.
Nóngcūn kàngqǐlái hěn píngqióng.


Get by in Welsh 1979
All the road signs have been pulled down.
Mae'r holl arwyddion wedi'u tynnu i lawr.
No, I'm taking the little train.
Na, rwy'n mynd ar y trên bach.
What's the barn in the middle of the field?
Beth yw'r ysgubor ar ganol y cae?
Cricket is a silly game.
Gêm ddwl yw criced.
Don't pester the girls in the next tent.
Peidiwch â phoeni'r merched yn y babell nesa.
She has excellent breasts.
Mae bronnau ardderchog da hi.


Setswana-English phrasebook 1979
Let it be well rubbed with a rag.
A e phimolwê thata ka sebata.
Inspan the oxen.
Golêga dikgomo.
What year is it?
Ke ngwaga wa bokaye?
Go and pick up the bird.
Ya go sêla nônyane.
Is this the first time you marry?
A ke gônê o émang?
Sew nicely with skill.
Roka sentlê ka botswerere.


Hawaiian phrasebook 1906
Such is the fashion now.
O ka paikini ia i keia wa.
She also remarked that I ate greedily.
Ua hoopuka pu ae la oia, he pakela ai au.
It is true, you are wise and we are foolish.
He oiaio ua naauao oukou a he poe hupo makou.
I will try a small piece of that cold mutton.
E hoa'o ana au i apana uuku o kela hipa maalili.
How much for that lot of razors, scissors, knives, horseshoes, and yokes?
Heaha ko kela puu pahi umiumi, upa, pahi, kamaa lio me na lei-pipi?
I had yams and fish for two days, and then I ate fern roots.
He ape ne ka i-a ka'u no elua la, a mahope ai au i ka hapuu.
Are you not ashamed?
Aohe ou hilahila?
I am afraid of the war.
Makau au i ke kaua.
A man was stabbed in the breast last night.
Ua hou pahi ia he kanaka ma ka umauma i ka po nei.


Lonely planet
Carry me, slowly.
Malai bistaarai bhoknuhos.
Where was this cheese made?
Yo chij kahaan baneko ho?
How many years will you stay in Nepal?
Nepaalmaa kati barsa basne?


Hippocrene Chechen-English/English-Chechen (1997) (supplied by Mark Wise)
Is the bridge still standing?
Tsun t'okhal doodush t'ai hintsa lattash dui?
Don't shoot!
Gerza ma tooghalah'!
Can you take me to the minefields?
Minii aaree yolcha vugar vari ah'so?


Somali Handbook (Dunwoody Press, 1992) (supplied by Mark Wise)
Do you have any valuables?
Wax qiimo leh ma sidataa?
Do not be afraid.
Ha baqin.
I won't hurt you.
Waxba kuu dhimi mayo.
Put your hands over your head!
Gacmaha madaxa saar!
Are the snakes here dangerous?
Masaska halkaan khatar miyaa?
I must operate on you.
Waa inaan ku qalaa.
We must bury her.
Waa inaan duugnaa isaga.


Learn Telugu in 30 Days (1986) (supplied by Mark Wise)
Don't hear his word.
A ta ni ma ta vi na va ddu.
I am with hungry.
Ne nu a ka li to u nna nu.
Cannot Sir, The price has gone up.
Ra dam di, dha ra pe ri gi po yi na di.


Handbook of Gaelic Phrases and Sentences (1939) (supplied by James Campbell)
Hand me that hat-box.
Sìn thugam am bòsdan sin.
You will get a candle on the table.
Gheibh sibh coinneal air a' bhòrd.
We shall troll along the coast.
Ni sinn sgrìob suas ris a' chladach.
Are you feeling spry to-day?.
A bheil sùrd math oirbh an diugh?
Hand me over those moccasins. —— They will not help you much, they are like a singed cat.
Sìn a nall na cuaranan sin. —— Cha mhór is fheairrde thu iad, tha iad coltach ri cat air a dhathadh.


A Simplified Dictionary of Modern Tongan, Appendix 3: Some Common Phrases (supplied by Philip Newton)
He/she will have a courtcase tomorrow for overstaying.
’E hopo ’apongipongi ko e (nofo) ’ova.
Fiona's solo dance was very good indeed.
Mâlie mo`oni ko e tau’olunga ’a Fiona.
The corpse will be taken to Tonga.
’E ’ave ’a e me’afaka’eiki ki Tonga.
We (3 or more) will be late for the singing practice.
Te mau tômui ki he akohiva.
Homes are dear in Ponsonby.
’Oku mamafa ’a e ’û ’api ’i Ponsonby.


Simple Colloquial Persian (Longmans 1937) (supplied by J.D. Crutchfield)
Take the lazy man out.
Mard-e-tambal rā birūn bebar.
Is the large bridge here?
Pol-e-buzurg injāst?
Your stockings are nice.
Jūrāb-e-shumā qashang ast.
Formerly you did not wear stockings.
Pish jūrāb na-mipūshidid.
I have not put the machine right yet.
Hanūz māshin rā durust nakardé-am.

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