Sunday, July 19, 2015

Everybody Works in Esperanto

Except it's really bad Esperanto
You may not know the song “Everybody Works But Father,” but it was a hit of the vaudeville era. The 1905 song is significant enough to have a Wikipedia entry, and was recorded by artists of the day such as Billy Murray and Bob Roberts (later, it was in the repertoire of Groucho Marx). (Just a note: both of those links are for 1905 recordings of the song, so if you’ve never heard of “Everybody Works But Father,” this is your chance to not only hear of it, but to hear it.)

The Chicago News probably assumed that most of their readers would know the song (unlike most of my readers), although it’s not clear from where the Esperanto translation came. Like many early purported samples of Esperanto, it lacks accented letters and makes plenty of errors. Of course, in that day, if you wanted to typeset Esperanto, instead of learning how to hit the right key combinations on your computer (of which there were exactly none in 1906), you had to order special type, which makes me wonder if Esperanto typesetters ever ran out of certain letters.

My source is not the Chicago News (for which I can’t even find publication data), but Life magazine for July 19, 1906. I’m going to included it letter-for-letter, since even if I fixed up its lack of accents, I’d still be left with all the grammatical errors it makes:

That new universal language, Esperanto, is getting a firm grip on humanity in all parts of the world. Some readers may not know what it looks like and sounds like. The following translation of the chorus of “Everybody Works But Father” may enlighten them:
“Cui labores sed patro
Li sidas cirkau vio tago
Kun la piedoj sur des fijaro-loco.
Fumiant lia argila pipo,
Patrimo emprenas des lavo,
Tiel faras filino Anne.
Cio laboras en mia domo
Sed mia maljuna viro.”—Chicago News.
Some of this clearly needs to be blamed on the compositor, sincere have “labores” in the first line and (the correct) “laboras” in the seventh. Ĉiu (everyone, everybody) gets rendered “cui” in the first line and “cio” in the seventh. And so on.

Even though I’m sure you’ve listened to the 1905 recordings, here’s the chorus, so you don’t have to go back again:
Everybody works but father
And he sits ’round all day
Feet in front of the fire
Smoking his pipe of clay
Mother takes in washing
So does sister Anne
Everybody works at our house
But my old man!
I’m doing minimal work to make this hit the same meter, but I think I’ve made a reasonable Esperanto translation of it (I’m open to suggestions).
Ĉiu laboras krom patro.
Li nur sidas tut-tage
Piedoj antaŭ la fajro,
Sian argilan pipon fumante.
Patrino enprenas lavaĵon,
Kaj ankaŭ fratino Ana.
Ĉiu laboras ĉe ni,
Krom mia maljunul’!
There’s a bit of difference between the Chicago News/Life version and what I’ve produced. Those with sharp eyes will note that wherever the 1906 version used sed, I’ve used krom. That’s because while sed carries most of the meanings of “but,” Esperanto has a separate word meaning “except,” and sed doesn’t have this meaning. But and except are both conjunctions and prepositions, while in Esperanto sed is a connection and krom is a preposition. Also, while different recordings give variants on Jean Havez’s text, both of the versions I’ve linked to specify “sister Anne,” but the 1906 Esperanto text makes her “daughter Anne.”

Although I have not tracked down the Chicago News, this item was reprinted in several places, with the Humeston New Era (which is unavailable to me) scooping Life by a few days, printing it on June 27, 1906. The piece got printed onward through 1907, occasionally creating even worse Esperanto. Still, in 1906, few people in the United States new enough Esperanto to point out just what a mangled translation this was.

Update: A reader brought a few typos on my part and other problems to my attention. I've corrected them, thanks! And another with another.
You can follow my blog on Twitter (@impofthediverse) or on Facebook. If you like this post, share it with your friends. If you have a comment just for me, e-mail me at
This blog runs solely on ego! Follow this blog! Comment on this post! Let me know that you want to read more of it!


  1. "But" and "except" are conjunctions, not conjugations.

    But I do wonder what the original sources of all this mangled Esperanto you keep turning up are...

    1. Of course. A typo.

      I always give the sources of the mangled Esperanto. All these blog posts come from articles in the US press of more than a century ago. As I noted above, Life ran this in 1906.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...