How Would an American Say It?

This is a book that Berna has in her collection of English-language learning materials.

This book is called" How would an American say it?: 2,000 conversational phrases of the widest variety

This book is called “How Would an American Say It?: 2,000 conversational phrases of the widest variety.”

This a real page from this book.

This a real page from this book.

1580 – Você está encolhendo. (Translation: You’re sucking in.)

I asked Berna what this phrase means in Portuguese. She said it translates to, “You’re shrinking.” Then I asked, when would you say this to someone? She responded, “Uh, never. Maybe if you’re telling an old woman that she keeps getting more and more hunched over.” Not only is the English translation totally inaccurate, it doesn’t even make any sense. What does “sucking in” mean?! Who says this?!

1581 – Ele é ateu. (Translation: He’s a godless man.)

This literally translates to “He is an atheist.” But thanks, writers of this book, for pointing out that this just means he’s godless. Those damn godless atheists..

1582 – Ele é retrógrado. (Translation: He’s a clock-stopper.)

“Retrógrado” translates to “retrograde.” Okay, easy enough. But we don’t really call people “retrograde” in English, so what does this mean? Berna says it means that someone is ancient, not simply in age necessarily, but also most likely in mindset. She said that this is indeed a phrase that Brazilians might use to describe someone who does or thinks things in an antiquated way. My friend Nathalie says that it’s a pejorative way to call someone ‘old-school’.

What still boggles my mind is the English translation. I was curious to see if the phrase “clock-stopper” is indeed used by English-speaking populations and I’m simply just ignorant, so of course I googled “he’s a clock-stopper.” Nothing on the first page of Google results really indicates that people use this term, at least not on the internet. I did, however, find an interesting thread on about the phrase “a face that would stop a clock,” which means someone is reaaaal ugly.. Good to know that it means something entirely different than being antiquated.


To give the author credit, it looks like this was the 7th edition of the book, and he has since come out with 3 more editions (the latest being the 10th edition as of the end of 2012). Unfortunately, a brief glance of the online PDF available for the 9th edition did not yield nearly as many giggles.

I was, however, tickled to find that the author has a Facebook page. He looks exactly as you might’ve guessed.

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