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A tongue-twister is a phrase that is designed to be difficult to articulate properly, and can be used as a type of spoken (or sung) word game. Some tongue-twisters produce results that are humorous (or humorously vulgar) when they are mispronounced, while others simply rely on the confusion and mistakes of the speaker for their amusement value.


Types of tongue-twistersEdit

Tongue-twisters may rely on rapid alternation between similar but distinct phonemes (e.g., s [s] and sh [ʃ]), combining two different alternation patterns,[1] familiar constructs in loanwords, or other features[which?] of a spoken language in order to be difficult to articulate. For example, the following sentence was claimed as "the most difficult of common English-language tongue-twisters" by William Poundstone.[2]

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

These deliberately difficult expressions were popular in the 19th century. The popular "she sells sea shells" tongue twister was originally published in 1850 as a diction exercise. The term tongue twister was first applied to these kind of expressions in 1895.

"She sells sea shells" was turned into a popular song in 1908, with words by British songwriter Terry Sullivan and music by Harry Gifford. According to folk etymology, it was said to be inspired by the life and work of Mary Anning, an early fossil collector.[3] However, there is no factual basis for this claim, especially since the expression predates Anning's life.[4]

She sells sea-shells on the sea-shore.
The shells she sells are sea-shells, I'm sure.
For if she sells sea-shells on the sea-shore
Then I'm sure she sells sea-shore shells.

Many tongue-twisters use a combination of alliteration and rhyme. They have two or more sequences of sounds that require repositioning the tongue between syllables, then the same sounds are repeated in a different sequence.[citation needed] An example of this is the song Betty Botter (  listen ):

Betty Botter bought a bit of butter.
The butter Betty Botter bought was a bit bitter
And made her batter bitter.
But a bit of better butter makes better batter.
So Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter
Making Betty Botter's bitter batter better

There are also Twisters which have a lot of same words in it:

Fia's Woodchuck:

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck.
If a woodchuck could chuck wood.
He would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck.
If a woodchuck would chuck wood.

The following twister won the "grand prize" in a contest in Games Magazine in 1979:[5]

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

Some tongue-twisters take the form of words or short phrases which become tongue-twisters when repeated rapidly (the game is often expressed in the form "Say this phrase three (or five, or ten, etc.) times as fast as you can!").[citation needed] Some examples include:

A Proper Copper Coffee Pot.
The sixth sitting sheet-slitter slit six sheets.
Irish Wristwatch, Swiss Wristwatch.
Pad kid poured curd pulled cold.[6]
Peggy Badcock.

Old Mother Hunt had a rough cut punt
Not a punt cut rough,
But a rough cut punt.

In 2013, a psychologist at an Acoustical Society of America conference claimed that “Pad kid poured curd pulled cod" is the trickiest twister to date.[7]

Related conceptsEdit


Shibboleths, that is, phrases in a language that are difficult for someone who is not a native speaker of that language to say might be regarded as a type of tongue-twist.[citation needed] An example is Georgian baq'aq'i ts'q'alshi q'iq'inebs ("a frog croaks in the water"), in which "q" is a sort of gulping sound. Another example, the Czech and Slovak strč prst skrz krk ("stick a finger through the throat") is difficult for a non-native speaker due to the absence of vowels, although syllabic r is a common sound in Czech, Slovak and some other Slavic languages.


The sign language equivalent of a tongue twister is called a finger-fumbler.[8][9] According to Susan Fischer, the phrase Good blood, bad blood is a tongue-twister in English as well as a finger-fumbler in ASL.[10]

One-syllable articleEdit

One-syllable article is a form of Mandarin Chinese tongue twister, written in Classical Chinese. Due to Mandarin Chinese having only four tonal ranges (compared to nine in Cantonese, for example), these works sound like a work of one syllable in different tonal range when spoken in Mandarin, but are far more comprehensible when spoken in another dialect.

Tongue-twisters in creative worksEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Speech Science: Tongue Twisters and Valley Girls
  2. ^ Poundstone, William. "The Ultimate". Retrieved 13 March 2010.
  3. ^ Shelley Emmling. "The Fossil Hunter". Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  4. ^ Stephen Winick. "She Sells Seashells and Mary Anning: Metafolklore with a Twist". Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  5. ^ Contest announced in issue of November/December 1979; results announced in issue of March/April 1980
  6. ^ Can You Tackle the World's Trickiest Tongue Twister? by Samantha Grossman, Time magazine, December 5, 2013
  7. ^ Annear, Steve (5 December 2013). "MIT Researchers Say They Have Created The Trickiest Tongue Twister To Date". Boston. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  8. ^ Hanson, Vicki (1991). "Tongue-Twister Effects in the Silent Reading of Hearing and Deaf College Students" (PDF). Journal of Memory and Language. 30: 178 – via Google Scholar.
  9. ^ Roper, Jonathan (2011). Alliteration in Culture. Springer. p. 8. ISBN 9780230305878 – via Google books.
  10. ^ Aristar, Anthony; Dry, Helen (27 May 1991). "Linguist List, Vol. 2". University of Michigan. Retrieved 13 March 2010.
  11. ^ Philip Nel, "Dr. Seuss: American Icon", 2005, ISBN 0826417086, p.27

External linksEdit