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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 which 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. For example

" Peter Pan plays the pan pipes, but were the pan pipes named after Peter Pan or Peter Pan the pan pipes." author Dominic Roberts.

Types of tongue-twisters[edit]

Tongue-twisters may rely on rapid alternation between similar but distinct phonemes (e.g., s [s] and sh [ʃ]), unfamiliar constructs in loanwords, or other features 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.[1]

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

This type of tongue-twister was incorporated into a popular song in 1908, with words by British songwriter Terry Sullivan and music by Harry Gifford. It was said to be inspired by the life and work of Mary Anning.[2]

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.

A slight variant replaces "on" with "by".

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 (About this sound  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

The following twister won the "grand prize" in a contest in Games Magazine in 1979:[3]

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.[4]
Peggy Babcock.

Related concepts[edit]


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 Czech and Slovak sound.


The sign language equivalent of a tongue twister is called a finger-fumbler.[citation needed] According to Susan Fischer, the phrase Good blood, bad blood is a tongue-twister in English as well as a finger-fumbler in ASL.[5]

Alliteration without tongue-twisting[edit]

Although tongue-twisters uses alliteration to make them difficult to speak, there are other uses of alliteration that do not result in tongue-twisters. For example:

There's a train at 4:04 said Miss Jenny.
Four tickets I'll take.
Have you any?
Said the man at the door.
"Not four for 4:04,
For four for 4:04 is too many."

No tongue-twister results in this example, because "4" is pronounced the same in all spellings.

Tongue-twisters in creative works[edit]

  • In the 1952 film Singin' in the Rain, movie star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) uses tongue-twisters while learning proper diction so he can make the transition from silent films to "talkies" in 1920's Hollywood. He also turns one of them ("Moses Supposes His Toeses Are Roses") into a song and dance number along with his best friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor).
  • In the cartoon episode You Said a Mouseful from Pinky and the Brain, both Pinky and Brain go through a collage of tongue-twisters that cover almost every category possible.

Tongue-twisters in different languages[edit]

Tongue-twisters exist in many different languages. For example:

  • Albanian: "Kupa me kapak, kupa pa kapak." (The cup with a lid, the cup without a lid).
  • Bengali: "Pakhi paka pepe khai." (Bird eats ripe papaya).
  • Bulgarian: "Петър плет плете, през три пръта преплита. Подпри, Петре, плета, падна, Петре, плетът." (Peter is plashing a fence. He skips every three rods. Prop up the fence, Peter. The fence is down, Peter).
  • Catalan: Setze jutges d'un jutjat mengen fetge d'un penjat, si el penjat es despengés es menjaria els setze fetges dels setze jutges que l'han jutjat. (16 trial judges eat the liver of a hanged man, if the hanged man comes down from the gallows he would eat the 16 livers from the 16 judges who condemned him)
  • Cantonese Chinese: "郵差叔叔送信純熟,迅速送出 (yau chai suk suk sung sun seon suk, seon chuk sung chut)." (The mailman was experienced with letter delivery and delivered rapidly.)
  • Mandarin Chinese: "四十四隻死石獅子.(si shi si zhi si shi shi zi)" (44 dead stone lions.)
  • Croatian: "Pop kopa prokop, kroz prokop kopa pop". (The priest digs a ditch, through ditch the priest digs.)
  • Czech: "Třistatřicettři stříbrných stříkaček stříkalo přes třistatřicettři stříbrných střech." (333 silver squirts spurted over 333 silver roofs.)
  • Danish: "Ringeren i Ringe ringer ringere end ringeren i Ringsted ringer." (The bellman at Ringe rings worse than the bellman at Ringsted)
  • Dutch: "De koetsier poetst de postkoets met postkoetspoets" (The coachman polishes the stagecoach with stagecoachpolish).
  • Filipino: "Bumili ako ng bituka ng butiki sa botika." (I bought a lizard's intestine at the drugstore.)
  • Finnish:"Kokko! Kokookko kokoon koko kokon? Koko kokonko? Koko kokon." (Kokko (name)! Would you gather up a bonfire? The entire bonfire? (Yes) the entire bonfire.)
  • French: "Un chasseur sachant chasser sait chasser sans son chien." (A hunter that knows how to hunt can hunt without his dog.)
  • German: "Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische. Frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritz." (Fisher's Fritz fishes fresh fish, fresh fish are fished by fisher's Fritz.)
  • Georgian: "ბაყაყი წყალში ყიყინებს" (baq’aq’i c’q’alši q’iq’inebs – The frog croaks in the water.)
  • Greek: "Άσπρη πέτρα ξέξασπρη και απ'τον ήλιο ξεξασπρότερη" (a white stone very bright, even brighter than the sun.)
  • Hebrew: "גנן גידל דגן בגן, דגן גדול גדל בגן" (ganan gidel dagan bagan, dagan gadol gadal bagan - A gardener grew cereals in the garden, big cereals grew up in the garden.)
  • Hungarian: "Stresszes strucc sztreccs dressz." (Spandex dress for a stressful ostrich.)
  • Icelandic: (Hnoðri úr norðri verður að veðri þó síðar verði.) Proverb "Fluff from the north eventually becomes the weather." means a fluffy cloud in the north eventually becomes the weather where you are.
  • Hindi: "Chandu ke chacha ne chandu ki chachi ko Chandni Chowk mein chandni raat mein chaandi ki chammach se chatni chataee." (Chandu's uncle fed Chandu's aunt chutney with a silver spoon on a moonlit night in Chandni Plaza.)
  • Indonesian: "Ular melingkar-lingkar di atas pagar." (Snake curls upon the fence.), for those who cannot trill their Rs, the phrase is somewhat hard to pronounce. - "Kuku kaki kakekku/kakakku kaku-kaku (kayak paku)." (My grandfather's/my sister's nails are stiff [like a nail].), this is a play of Ks and glottal stops.
  • Italian: "Trentatré trentini entrarono a Trento, tutti e trentatré trotterellando." (Thirty-three Trentine people entered Trento, all the thirty-three trotting along.)
  • Japanese: "坊主が屏風に上手に坊主の絵を書いた (Bōzu ga byōbu ni jōzu ni bōzu no e o kaita)." (A priest skillfully drew a picture of a priest on folding screen.)
  • Kannada: "Kempu Kunkuma Kappu Kunkuma Kempu Kunkuma Kappu Kunkuma"
  • Korean: "간장공장 공장장은 강 공장장이고, 된장공장 공장장은 장 공장장이다.(Ganjanggongjang gongjangjangeun Gang(Kang) gongjangjangigo, doenjanggongjang gongjangjangeueun Jang(Chang) gongjangjangida. - The soy sauce plant manager is manager Kang, and soy paste plant manager is manager Chang.)"
  • Latin: "Te tero, Roma, manu nuda, date tela, latete!" (I will destroy you, Rome, with my bare hands, arm yourselves and hide!)
  • Latvian: "Uz sešdesmit seši pa smilšainu šoseju." (At 66 on a sandy highway.)
  • Lithuanian:"Šešios žąsys su šešiais žąsyčiais." (6 geese with 6 goslings.)
  • West Lombard: "Ti che te tàcchet i tacch, taccom i tacch! Mi taccatt i tacch a ti, che te tàcchet i tacch? Tàccheti ti i tò tacch, ti che te tàcchet i tacch!" (O you who fix heels, fix my heels! Me? Fix your heels, while you yourself fix heels? Just fix your heels yorself, you who fix heels!)
  • Malay: "Kakakku kata kuku kaki kiriku kaku - ku kikis kuku kaki kiriku." (My older sister says my left toenail is stiff - I scrape my left toenail.)
  • Malayalam: "മഴ പെയ്ത് വഴിയെല്ലാം കൊഴകൊഴ.Mazha peyth vazhi ellam kozhakozha"
  • Maltese: "Dari rari tara lira, tara lira, tara re." (In days gone by you rarely saw a Lira {Malta's old currency} when you see a Lira you see a King.)
  • Norwegian: "Ibsens ripsbusker og andre buskvekster." (Ibsen's redcurrant bushes and other shrubs.)
  • Persian: "لیره رو لوله لوله رو لیره" (lireh roo looleh, looleh roo lireh.)
  • Polish: "Król Karol kupił królowej Karolinie korale koloru koralowego." (King Carl bought Queen Caroline coral-colored corals). "W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie." (In the town of Szczebrzeszyn a beetle buzzes in the reeds - see also Chrząszcz). "Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz, Chrząszczyżewoszyce, powiat Łękołody" (popular sentence from Polish movie "How I Unleashed World War II")
  • Portuguese: "O Rato roeu a roupa do Rei de Roma e a Rainha, raivosa, rasgou o resto." (The rat nibbled the clothes of the Roman King, and the angry Queen tore the rest.)"
  • Romanian: "Capra calcă piatra/piatra crapă-n patru/crăpa-i-ar capul caprei/cum a crăpat capra piatra-n patru." (The goat stepped on the rock/the rock broke in four/may the goat's head break in four/as the goat broke the rock in four.)
  • Russian: "Карл у Клары украл кораллы, а Клара у Карла украла кларнет" (Karl u Klary ukral korally, a Klara u Karla ukrala klarnet—Carl stole corals from Clara and Clara stole clarinet from Carl.)
  • Serbian: "Na vrh brda vrba mrda."/"На врх брда врба мрда." (On the top of the hill osier moves.)
  • Sinhala: "Rathu Chiththa De Jathiyayai." (Two types of red cloths.)
  • Slovenian: "Težko je pešca sčistiti s cestišča." (It's hard to clean a passenger ('s remains) from the road.)
  • Sourashtra: "Kallo khallo podi khalo setha ollo kallam layi kalla ollo hoyo!! (Bitter-Gourd fell down in the wet land, and became watery!)
  • Spanish: "Tres tristes tigres tragaban trigo en un trigal." (Three sad tigers swallowed (ate) wheat on a wheat field.)
  • Swedish: "Sju sjösjuka sjömän sköttes av sju sköna sjuksköterskor i Shanghai" (Seven seasick seamen were nursed by seven beautiful nurses in Shanghai)
  • Swiss German: "Dr Papst hett s Speckbsteck z Spiez z spoht bstellt." (The Pope has ordered the cutlery for eating bacon too late when he was in Spiez.)
  • Tamil: "பைத்தியக்கார ஆஸ்பத்திரியில் பைத்தியங்களுக்கு வைத்தியம் பார்க்கிற வைத்தியருக்குப் பைத்தியம் பிடித்தால், எந்த பைத்தியக்கார ஆஸ்பத்திரியில் பைத்தியங்களுக்கு வைத்தியம் பார்க்கிற வைத்தியர் வந்து அந்த பைத்தியகார வைத்தியருக்கு வைத்தியம் பார்ப்பார்" (If the physician who treats a mental patient in a mental asylum gets mad, which physician from which mental asylum will treat this physician who has become a mad person?)
  • Thai: "ชามเขียวคว่ำเช้า ชามขาวคว่ำค่ำ" (Chaam khiaw kwam chaaw, chaam chaaw kwam kham - The green bowl is upside-down in the morning, the white bowl is upside down in the evening.)
  • Turkish: "Şu yoğurdu sarımsaklasak da mı saklasak, sarımsaklamasak da mı saklasak?" (Should we add garlic in that yogurt and keep it then, or should we not add garlic and keep it?)
  • Vietnamese: "Bà ba béo bán bánh bèo bên bờ biển." (The chubby woman Ba sells rice cake on the sea shore.)
  • Welsh: "Pesychwch fel y pesychasoch gynt." (Cough like you coughed earlier);

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Poundstone, William. "The Ultimate". Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
  2. ^ Shelley Emmling. "The Fossil Hunter". Retrieved 9 December 2010. 
  3. ^ Contest announced in issue of November/December 1979; results announced in issue of March/April 1980
  4. ^ Can You Tackle the World's Trickiest Tongue Twister? by Samantha Grossman, Time magazine, December 5, 2013
  5. ^ Aristar, Anthony; Dry, Helen (27 May 1991). "Linguist List, Vol. 2". University of Michigan. Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
  6. ^ Philip Nel, "Dr. Seuss: American Icon", 2005, ISBN 0826417086, p.27

External links[edit]