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Tongue Twisters: Fun and Useful

Updated on December 1, 2012
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Words, wordplay, reading, and writing have been favorites of Liz's since early childhood. She enjoys exploring science and science fiction.

What Are Tongue Twisters?

By the time a child is in third or fourth grade, most have learned at least a couple of these tricky word phrases. At its simplest, a tongue twister is a series of words that have such similar sounding beginning combinations that they become difficult to say without mispronouncing at least some of the words. The trick is a form known as alliteration, where all the words actually start with the same letter, or pair of letters, i.e., “stem to stern.” Sometimes, there are a pair or more of similar repeating sounds, not always with the same letter (refer to my first example near the end of the article.) Most of us are probably familiar with the popular ones that have been around the longest, such as,

“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” or, “She sells seashells by the seashore.”

If you are not careful with your speech, it is very easy to mix up the sounds and trip over your tongue as it were, and make some very funny sounding mistakes. In the case of good old Peter Piper, the collection of letter “k’s” in the middle makes possible an error that some might consider rude or off-color language…it usually happens in the last word of the phrase, and I’m sure you can figure it out without me having to tell you and thereby violate some censor’s definition of “decency.”

Why Bother With Tongue Twisters?

On the simplest level, they are just plain silly fun; children especially enjoy the hilarity of rattling off these tricky sentences, and often end up “ROFL” or “rolling on the floor laughing,” to borrow a current internet shorthand phrase.

There is a more serious side, though. These hard-to-say bits of nonsense have long been used to train people who must be very careful with their diction, such as:

  • actors
  • singers
  • public speakers
  • television newscasters

In days gone by, there would be actual classes held to learn how to speak clearly and efficiently. This was called “elocution.” There was more to these classes than just learning to say tongue twisters without stumbling, though. They also included style, delivery, making an effective speech, and how to use emphasis. Similar training is still used, though I’m sure there is a more modern term for it--probably nothing more complicated-sounding than just plain old, “public speaking.”

Say That Three Times--Fast!

Ah, there’s the rub! It’s easy enough to learn to navigate these tricky bits; but most people, in doing so, will slow down their normal speech pattern by a significant amount. Try it at normal speed, and you’re liable to instantly get into trouble--your tongue will indeed get twisted around the words. Trying to speak them at an even faster-than-normal delivery is practically guaranteed to foul you up and reduce you to a fit of giggles.

Try These Out For Yourself:

Here is a selection of some of my personal favorites. Some date back to my grandparent’s era, and might be unfamiliar to modern folks. That makes them all the more fun. They are simply nonsensical phrases put together for their alliterative qualities. You’ll find here, that there’s more to Peter Piper than appeared above.

  • Red rubber buggy bumpers
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many peppers did Peter Piper pick, and where did Peter Piper put the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
  • How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? He'd chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could if a woodchuck could chuck wood.
  • I saw Susie sitting in a shoe shine shop. Where she sits, she shines, where she shines, she sits.
  • Can you can a can as a canner can can a can?
  • Green glass globes glow greenly.
  • The sick sixth’s sheik's sheep’s sick.

A Great Example

Oh--I mentioned singers? Here’s a classic from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, sung as the final chorus in the song, "I Am So Proud.":

“To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock,
In a pestilential prison, with a life-long lock,
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock,
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block!”

Ah, but that’s not the end of it--this tongue-twisting phrase is repeated three times in succession, and fairly rapidly at that. It’s a real challenge for the actors who must not only get all the pronunciations correct, but clearly spoken and understood--and in song on top of it all! Bad enough at that, but each repetition is sung even faster than the last. .... and .... in the clip below, the audience demands an encore!

A Tongue-Twisting Operatic Aria

© 2012 Liz Elias


Submit a Comment

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi again, starbright..

    Thanks for checking back go have a drink. ;-)

    I write a wide variety of "stuff," so you never know--the humor bug may strike at any time. Thanks again.

  • starbright profile image

    Lucy Jones 5 years ago from Scandinavia

    LOL - my screen is fine. Although I'm a bit dry after all that spitting - haha! Have a great day and please do write more fun hubs - they're sensational.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, starbright,

    LOL...yes, tongue-twisters are fun at any age--or time of day!

    I'm so pleased you had fun and enjoyed the article, and thanks for stopping by and letting me know. I do hope your screen is ok! ;-)

  • starbright profile image

    Lucy Jones 5 years ago from Scandinavia

    Lots of fun. Although my screen took the worst brunt of the spit as I tried my best to articulate my way around these twisters - plus laughing at the same time. Not an easy feat to manage at 3 in the morning. Thanks for sharing.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Nell!

    So glad you had a good chuckle. It's always fun to 'psych out' one's friends, isn't it?

    Thanks much for stopping by.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

    That was fun! I haven't done tongue twisters in so many years! lol! I was sitting here reading them out loud and my friend thought I had lost the plot! lol!

  • Theophanes profile image

    Theophanes 5 years ago from New England

    Hehe, tongue twisters are fun for all ages. I STILL can't say, "A skunk sat on a stump and thunk" fast. Although as a child I somehow mastered, "Betty bought a bit of better butter." (Though I don't remember how the rest goes.) Just the other day I came across an aquarium fish called a flasher wrasse. Upon trying to read its name aloud we both started cracking up - its an unfortunate combination of sounds! Thanks for this piece. It was fun!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there, Susan!

    Hey, I'm glad you liked this hub. Thanks for providing additional lines to that one--I've never heard any but the first line! This should be fun to tackle, difficult enough, but I've yet to find any as hard as that Sick Sheik! ;-)

  • Just Ask Susan profile image

    Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    What a fun hub! I've always like the one that goes:

    "She sells seashells by the seashore.

    The shells she sells are surely seashells.

    So if she sells shells on the seashore,

    I'm sure she sells seashore shells."

    I could never say that one more than twice.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, drbj,

    Thanks! I'm glad you had fun on your trip down memory lane. I agree..that 'sixth sheik' is nearly impossible...I cannot say it unless very slowly and carefully...

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

    Like most others, Lizzy, I could not resist saying these tongue twisters out loud - every one of them - just to prove to myself that I still could repeat them without mistakes.

    They were all familiar to me except for the sixth sheiks' sheep - that one is a doozy. Thanks for the deja vu, m'dear.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    LOL, MsDora..

    Good luck with that...I find that on some of the harder ones, I even get tangled up trying to read them to myself without speaking them! Thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 5 years ago from The Caribbean

    Thanks for this fun hub and aria. Is it okay to read tongue twisters without saying them out loud? If not, I give up.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Mhatter99,

    Hmmm....That's either one I've not heard before, or at least not for a very long time--it seems to ring a bell--albeit a very faint one.

    I'm pleased you enjoyed the hub--thanks so much for stopping by and sharing.

  • Mhatter99 profile image

    Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

    Delightful hub, thank you, try this one; A nosy noise annoys an oyster. That's the kind of noise which annoys an oyster.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, there billybuc,

    LOL you are quite welcome. Hee hee. Cats and yarn, indeed. I, personally, find the "Sixth Sheik's Sixth Sheep" one to be virtually impossible to get around.

    Glad you enjoyed this bit of whimsy; thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Okay my friend, this is the sort of thing that could drive me a ball of yarn for a cat. I'll be trying these now all through the night. Thanks a lot. LOL Great fun!