Fun with Tongue Twisters

Fun with Tongue Twisters

Tongue twisters are sentences or expressions that are challenging to recite in a clear fashion. Practicing tongue twisters can be an excellent way to improve your formal speaking abilities (primarily your articulation and enunciation skills), plus they can be fun word games to play with friends and family since the mistakes often made can be quite humorous and entertaining. Reciting tongue twisters on your own can also be a good way to entertain yourself whenever you're bored and don't have a book, cell phone, MP3 player, or other technical gadget handy for distraction.

Elocution experts used to think tongue twisters helped with "speech correction." More specifically, back in the 1800s various school teachers thought they could stop children from stammering by having them recite various tongue twisters. Of course in our modern age teachers now realize practicing tongue twisters alone is not an effective treatment for curing stuttering, since they do nothing to address the underlying anxiety or emotional issues that go along with the condition.

Now on to some real tongue twisters. To get us started, here is a classic about a fellow named "Peter Piper" that nearly everyone is familiar with:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

As can be seen from this classic example, tongue twisters are based on the principle of words having similar yet distinguishable sounds, so that saying them in rapid succession makes them difficult to enunciate properly. Your tongue and mind can become quite confused due to the sounds being so similar and packed so closely together. To successfully recite a tongue twister, usually a combination of concentration and memorization is necessary – these "tools" work together to allow correct pronunciation of the exact "details" inherent in the individual words. Here is another (less famous) example of a tongue twister that also has an abundance of similar sounds:

I need not your needles, they're needless to me;
For kneading of noodles, 'twere needless, you see;
But did my neat knickers but need to be kneed,
I then should have need of your needles indeed.

Tongue twisters don't have to be particularly long (as in the previous two examples) to be sufficiently challenging. Relying on repetition can make short tongue twisters more difficult. Here is another classic tongue twister that is short and simple (to make it more difficult, say it five times as fast as possible):

Rubber baby buggy bumpers.

And here is an even shorter one with only three distinct words, but when repeated enough it too can become quite difficult:

Red leather! Yellow leather!

In the movie The King's Speech (which is based on real historical events), Prince Albert (King George VI) has a terrible stammer that prevents him from performing his public speaking duties. Thus the Prince decides to see a speech therapist by the name of Lionel Logue (a speech therapist from Australia) who has Prince Albert practice the following tongue twister as part of his speech therapy:

I am a thistle sifter. I have a sieve full of sifted thistles,
and a sieve full of unsifted thistles, because I am a thistle sifter.

Which, after some research, seems to be a shorter version of this tongue twister:

She is a thistle-sifter. She has a sieve of unsifted thistles
and a sieve of sifted thistles and the sieve of unsifted thistles she sifts
into the sieve of sifted thistles because she is a thistle-sifter.

After further research, another version was found (probably the original) in a book titled The Casket: Flowers of Literature, Wit, and Sentiment, which dates back to 1830:

Theopholis Thistle the thistle sifter sifted a sieve
full of unsifted thistles, and if Theopholis Thistle the thistle sifter
sifted a sieve full of unsifted thistles, where's the sieve full
of sifted thistles that Theopholis Thistle the thistle sifter sifted!

The lesson to be learned here is that especially difficult tongue twisters can occasionally be shortened to just their main "keywords" if you will, and still be effective. The Casket states that the above twister is an "unutterably curious sentence [...] frequently used in schools for the correction of stammering." In one of the biographies of King George VI, it was stated that another of Logue's vocal callisthenics was this sentence:

Let's go gathering healthy heather with the gay brigade of grand dragoons.

Which doesn't seem to be a challenging tongue twister per se, but more in line with a sentence that can help one improve their enunciation skills. Lionel Logue ended up successfully curing the King's stammer, which was proved after the King gave a flawless speech without a single stutter at the Old Parliament House. The King and Logue worked together for over twenty years, performing public speeches and doing radio broadcasts during WWII. The King was so appreciative of Lionel Logue that he appointed him as a Commander in the Royal Victorian Order in honor of his personal service to the King.

Over the years, various magazines have thought tongue twisters were sufficiently entertaining enough to hold contests in which respondents invented their own versions. In 1979 Games Magazine conducted a contest in which the following entry won the "Grand Prize."

Shep Schwab shopped at Scott's Schnapps shop;
One shot of Scott's Schnapps stopped Schwab's watch.

A single recitation of this prize-winning entry is enough to twist up your tongue for hours. The 's' and 'sh' sounds so closely situated with the harder 'w,' 'n,' and 'c' sounds make this one especially challenging.

Be careful when reciting tongue twisters in mixed company, as some can produce quite offensive and even vulgar language. Try the following twister on for size, but make sure your audience is sympathetic to "strong" language in case you make any mistakes:

I'm not the fig plucker, nor the fig pluckers' son.
But I'll pluck figs, till the fig plucker comes.

As far as making up tongue twisters on your own, they are not especially difficult to manufacture as long as you keep in mind the basic rule that they're based on words with similar yet distinguishable sounds. After a few minutes thought, the author of this article produced the following:

Mom's pimento panini has mounds of umami.

But it only seems moderately challenging when repeated quickly five times or more.

Writer William Poundstone claimed this tongue twister was one of the most difficult to recite properly (those with a lisp would have no chance of being understood at all):

The seething sea ceaseth and thus the seething sea sufficeth us.

Another tongue twister relying heavily on the 's' sound is this one, which has a humorous quality:

Six sick hicks nick six slick bricks with picks and sticks.

For illustrative purposes, consider this sentence which is not a tongue twister, but uses all letters of the alphabet (not just one time, however):

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.

As you can see this is not an effective tongue twister, even after adding plenty of repetition, because the sentence does not contain enough similar yet distinct sounds.

So there you have quite a few tongue twisters for your enjoyment. Have fun seeking out more that better suit your personal taste, whether it be ones that are more challenging to say, or ones that are more humorous in spirit. Or simply have fun trying to create your own difficult tongue twisters that no human being on Earth could ever recite properly. Remember, you can practice tongue twisters to relieve boredom, or to improve your public speaking skills, or simply to give your lips, tongue, and mouth a good workout. You may even want to throw a tongue twister party in which you invite friends over for an evening devoted entirely to reciting humorous or bawdy twisters and laughing over the mistakes. You can serve drinks and food, play music of whatever type in the background, even hand out large monetary "Grand Prizes" to whomever shows themselves to have the best enunciation skills in your group. You simply can't go wrong with tongue twisters. They are good clean fun on many different levels!

Comments (2)

A Toast : Here's to you as good as you are and as bad as I am but as good as you are and as bad as I am I'm as good as you are as bad as I am .

Say it at least 3 times rapidly. studecar professor
What about saying "Peggy Babcock" rapidly five times in succession. Or "Unique New York"
pKrema: "No Strings Attached..."(meet us in the forums)

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