OU blog

Personal Blogs

Three terrific tongue twisters

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Richard Walker, Friday, 11 Dec 2015, 01:49

As I stumbled along the beach of life I came across an accidental tongue-twister, a sort of object trouvé, like the pebbles beachcombers collect.

Every day the Times of London has a Quick Cryptic Crossword.

Try saying the phrase out loud 10 times in rapid succession.

I've always adored tongue-twisters. My favorite is one I heard many years back on the radio. I don't know who invented it but I'm very grateful to them. It comes with a little backdrop story.

The late Queen Mother was going round a saucepan factory. Pausing by a workman she asked what he was doing, which lead to the following noblesse oblige conversation:

"Are you aluminiuming them my man?" "No, I'm copper-bottoming 'em Mum."

I've often wondered whether there is a theory of tongue-twisters. Could a computer design phenomenally hard ones? There must be some kind of analysis possible that would let us understand what makes a phrase hard to say repeatedly.

Step forward MIT. In 2013 a research team collected and analyzed a collection of speech errors made by experimental subjects. Based on this they devised a fiendishly difficult tongue-twister. Are you ready? Do you want to fetch a glass of water for safety's sake? OK here we go.

pad kid poured curd pulled cod

Call that tongue-twisting? Feeble, isn't it?

Science, successful in so many ways, flunked here. And commentators were too lazy to say so — or couldn't — or wouldn't.

In contrast, here is a real killer I was taught by a Polish friend. For background, Lola is a woman's name; loyola means 'is loyal'; 'nie' pronounced 'knee-ay' means not. But the meaning doesn't matter really. Just remember how 'nie' should be said. 10 times out loud remember.

Lola loyola. Lola nie loyola.

The word tongue-twister is fairly recent it seems. The Oxford English Dictionary only records it from 1898, and in 1904 the Speaker offered this, which ain't bad

Miss Smith's fish-sauce shop

Favorite tongue-twisters anybody?

Permalink Add your comment
Share post


Me in a rare cheerful mood

I'm not the pheasant plucker, I'm the pheasant plucker's son

"I am James McLevy, Inspector of Police."  I like the McLecy stories, they do them on Radio 7 Radio 4 Extra from time to time.  But every time he says he is in Leith I think of the first line of this:

The Leith police dismisseth us,

They thought we sought to stay;
The Leith police dismisseth us,
They thought we'd stay all day.
The Leith police dismisseth us,
We both sighed sighs apiece;
And the sighs that we sighed as we said goodbye
Were the size of the Leith police.

Me in a rare cheerful mood

New comment

The Pheasant Plucker's Song can't be rude; it's even been sung in full on Radio 4.

Here's an American variation on the pheasant plucker's song, the Mother Pheasant Plucker.


New comment

There are sooooo many. 

'Red Lorry, yellow lorry' 

'How much wood would a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood' apparently this is the shortened version.

'She sells seashells by the sea shore'

'Peter Piper (of course)

New comment

I've read that the Guinness Book of Records lists "The Sixth sick sheikh's sixth sheep's sick" as the hardest tongue twister.

I'm puzzled about how this record was authenticated though. Was there some sort of big tongue-twist off in front of official judges or what?

Me in a rare cheerful mood

New comment

Richard, I think someone has hacked into your account.  They have posted a message on your blog in the middle of the day rather than between midnight and 4 a.m. when you do your posts, so it can't have been you!


This is the Night Male writing the blog rhymes,
Bringing the poems and punnery at times
When tutors snore and students sleep
And TMA writers just want to weep.


New comment

Bad dreams. He rose early.
Half-asleep, started marking.
Soon displaced.