Tongue Twister

Two tropers tarried to talk "tongue-twister" topic's techniques. Tropers' tongues twisted till tropers' tangled tongues tied totally taut. Talking troubles taught tropers twain to tackle tortuous tongue-twisters tentatively.

In plain language, a tongue twister is a sentence or phrase that's meant to be difficult to say, generally because it incorporates rhymes, near-rhymes, alliteration, assonance or all of the above. The simultaneous excitation of so many closely-linked neurons in the brain's speech centers results in unintended Spoonerisms and Verbal Tic-like errors, mid-phrase. Sometimes these phrases are constructed so that the errors will generate unintentional swear-words. A tongue-twister is generally easier to say when speaking slowly; often, short ones will be accompanied by a challenge to say them three times fast.

These sayings occur both as works in themselves, and as features of larger works. Often, when a tongue twister is employed within a broader work, it's as a comedic element focusing on just how hard it is to say the phrase properly. Both in Real Life and in fiction, they can be used to practice enunciation in speech therapy and oratory training.

Interestingly, an equivalent concept exists in sign languages, in which difficult-to-sign phrases are known as "finger fumblers".

A sister trope of Cannot Spit It Out. If applied to a name, it'll become The Unpronounceable.

Typical tongue twisters:

  • William Poundstone declared this to be the most challenging tongue-twister in the English language:
    The seething sea ceaseth and thus the seething sea sufficeth us.
  • This old song, the first line of which is a well-known example:
    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.
  • Just try to rattle off the following without an error:
    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.
  • This submission won a contest in Games magazine in 1979:
    Shep Schwab shopped at Scott's Schnapps shop;
    One shot of Scott's Schnapps stopped Schwab's watch.
  • This one, while less difficult, is still plenty impressive to rattle off at speed:
    Around the rough and rugged rock, the ragged rascal randomly ran.
  • Some high-speed examples, which become tongue twisters if said quickly and repeatedly:
    • A Proper Copper Coffee Pot.
      • This one inspired a tongue-tangling song by the folk band Trout Fishing In America.
    • Betty Bopper's battering batton made Bertie Bopper bite her.
    • Cecily thought Sicily less thistly than Thessaly.
    • Irish wristwatch.
    • Peggy Babcock.
    • The bog above Bob Gorman's bog.
    • Pleasant mother pheasant plucker.
    • Red Leather, Yellow Leather.
      • (Alternately): Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry.
    • Rubber Baby Buggy Bumper.
    • Smiley shlug with Shloer.
    • Mad Man.
    • Unique New York.
    • City Shellfish.
    • Toy boat.
  • Some other classics:
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,
Then where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
If a woodchuck would chuck wood?
  • And its answer:
All of the wood that a woodchuck would,
if a woodchuck could chuck wood!
  • Alternatively:
A woodchuck could chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could
If a woodchuck could chuck wood.
  • Or the variant:
How much whey would a zimbab weigh
If a zimbab would weigh whey
  • According to at least one edition of the Guiness Book of World Records, the world's hardest tongue twister (or at least in English) is:
    The sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick.
  • "Fuzzy Duck" and "Duckie Fuzz" will eventually make the speaker mess up and say "fuck".
    • The woodchuck example above is also intended to do this, as is the "pheasant plucker" variant.
  • A German one that translates quite well:
Fischers Fritze fischt frische Fische, frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritze.
becomes in English:
Fisher(man) Fritz fished fresh fish, fresh fish fished fisher(man) Fritz

There are a few tongue twisters that seek to take advantage of you. These are NSFW when said aloud and messed up.

I'm not the pheasant plucker / I'm the pheasant plucker's son
I'm only plucking pheasants 'til the pheasant plucker comes.

Silent Susan sits in her Chevrolet.
She sits and she shifts and she shifts and she sits.

Tongue-tangling in tales:

  • Dr. Seuss' Fox In Socks is made up of examples of this trope, as well as Oh Say Can You Say. Fox in Socks is a more solid tongue-twisting read.
    • Oh Say Can You Say's twisters are of varying quality and ease, but a few of them top Fox in Socks individually. We're looking at you, "Never buy your Daddy a Walrus".
    A walrus with whiskers is not a good pet.
    And a walrus which whispers is worse even yet.
    When a walrus lisps whispers through tough rough wet whiskers,
    your poor daddy’s ear will get blispers and bliskers.
  • Practically everything that comes out of V's mouth in V for Vendetta qualifies. One wonders how many takes it must've taken to produce his dialogue for the film...
  • Non-alliterative example: In It, Stuttering Bill's speech therapist has him recite "He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts". This awkward sentence becomes something of a confidence-building mantra for Bill.
  • Actors often use these to warm up for a performance; if someone is about to go onstage (in-universe or otherwise), you might see them preparing by speaking one of these aloud.
  • In The Brady Bunch, little Cindy was attempting to get rid of her lisp:
    Cindy: She sells seashells by the seashore. She sells seashells by the seashore. She sells seashells by the seashore.
    Marcia: Cindy, would you mind practicing somewhere else? Arithmetic is kind of hard.
    Cindy: So are S's.
  • Family Guy had a Cutaway Gag mocking Tvs Bloopers And Practical Jokes, with a blooper from ''Joanie Loves Chachi", with Chachi attempting to say "She sells seashells by the seashore", he gets attacked by a bear.
  • 2d!Doofenshmirtz in Phineas and Ferb Across The Second Dimension:
    2D!Doof: Boy borg. Try saying that five times fast. Boyborg, Boyborg, Boyborg, Boyborg, Boyborg...I guess maybe it's not that hard to say.
  • These are used as teaching tools in My Fair Lady: "In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen."
    • At the Ascott race, Eliza shows off her eloquence by discussing the weather in tongue twisters.
  • A variant of the "announcers' test" example, above, appears in the 1997 novel Matters of Chance by Jeannette Haien:
    One good hen
    Two ducks
    Three cackling geese
    Four plump partridges
    Five Limerick oysters
    Six pairs of Don Alphonso tweezers
    Seven hundred Macedonian horseman [sic] dressed in full battle array
    Eight sympathetic, apathetic, diabetic old men on crutches
    Nine brass monkeys from the Sacred Sepulchres of Ancient Egypt
    Ten lyrical, spherical heliotropes from the Iliad Missionary Institute
  • The Pheasant Plucking Song
    • Fred Colon, of the Discworld City Watch novels, was once in a military regiment called the Pheasant Pluckers. In reminiscing, he recalls how the regimental song was a bit difficult to sing correctly.
  • Edward "Eddy J" Lemberger's The Tongue Twister Song!
  • In episode 14 of Bakemonogatari, Koyomi Araragi deals with Black Hanekawa (Tsubasa Hanekawa possessed by a male bakeneko she refers to as a "meddlesome cat"), whose appearance, demeanor, and actions get a rise out of Araragi. He then asks her to repeat, "Can you imagine an imaginary menagerie manager imagining managing an imaginary menagerie?" Not only does she repeat the tongue twister flawlessly, but she finds the time to throw in her cat-based Verbal Tic as well. Araragi is quite impressed.
    Black Hanekawa: "Can mew imyagine an imyaginyary mewnyagerie mewnyager imyagining mewnyaging an imyaginyary mewnyagerie?"
  • On 30 Rock, Jenna starred in a film called "The Rural Juror", which no one can pronounce without it sounding like gibberish.
  • In one of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books, a fictional character gets Thursday to try to say one, and is quite intrigued by her inability, because fictional characters have no trouble with them.
  • There are numerous tongue twisters in the Pinky and the Brain episode "You Said a Mouseful", wherein Brain attempts to put helium into hacky-sack sack-kicker shoes in a Hackensack factory.
    Brain: You must slit the sixth sick sheet slitter's son's sheet, secure it next to the toy boat from the Hackensack Socko Kicky-Sack Sack Kickers' picnic in Secaucus, stretch it past the sack pickers' station and the sock plucker's chute, and pick a sack, pluck a sock, and flick the plug, so I can put the pea in the plucked sock with the picked sack for ballast and bounce it off the rubber baby buggy bumper, into the Parker Packard purple pewter pressure pump.
  • In one of the Harlem Globetrotters episodes of The New Scooby-Doo Movies, the normally Comically Serious Velma challenges her friends to say, "Something's thumping," three times fast. Shaggy doesn't even want to say it once.
  • The Last Crown (sequel to The Lost Crown: A Ghosthunting Adventure) includes the phrase "powerful paranormal phenomena", which the creator's blog suggests gave voice actress Emma Harry some Real Life Tongue Twister issues.
  • In an episode of The Colbert Report, Martin Freeman discussed playing Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. He mentioned how thrilled he was that he, along with the rest of the cast, were immortalized as Lego figures.
    Colbert: Is there a Lego Legolas?
    Freeman: Yes, but he only goes down to here (indicates his waist) so he's a legless Lego Legolas.
  • This exchange in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum:
    Miles Gloriosus: Oh, her bridal bower becomes a burial bier of bitter bereavement!
    Pseudolus: Very good! Can you say "Titus the tailor told ten tall tales to Titania the titmouse"?
  • In Feet of Clay, Vimes recites "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" to prove he's not drunk.
    • Conversely, in Heinlein's short time-paradox story "By His Bootstraps", Wilson demonstrates that he is drunk by reciting the same phrase, and having it come out "Peter Piper pepped a pick of pippered peckles".
  • In Wicked Bronze Ambition, Garrett's sorceress companion teases him about his least favorite food, saying that if he could ban green peppers as he wished, his criminal friends would all start picking and packing pecks of peppers for the black market. Garrett himself has had trouble enunciating the phrase "saber-toothed tiger" ever since Bitter Gold Hearts.
  • The Jerk has a scene of Navin Talking in Bed with Marie:
    Navin: Marie, are you awake? Good. You look so beautiful and peaceful, you almost look dead. I'm glad because there is something that has always been very difficult for me to say. "I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit." I've never been relaxed enough around anyone to be able to say that.
  • A regular feature on Bosco. Two animated characters would say the Tongue Twister more and more quickly as their necks expanded. It was that kind of show.
  • In a Toyota commercial, a saleswoman sums up a family's car-buying preferences:
    "So, Clarence is here for clearance to get Cammy a Camry, and Blake wants it in black."
  • In the "Martha's Got Talent" episode of Martha Speaks, the talking dog plans to demonstrate her ability to recite tongue twisters in a talent contest that's really a set-up by some bumbling would-be dog-nappers.
  • The "Three Musketeers" sketch from The Muppets Go to the Movies involves the Scarlet Pimpernel dropping a crumpet made from pumpernickel, covered in lumps, from Humperdink's bakery, leading to the line "It's that simple wimp, Pimpernel, and his Humperdink's lumpy pumpernickel crumpets!" Link Hogthrob, playing one of the Musketeers, keeps stumbling over the line.
  • The Beatles: George can't say "soothsayer to the stars" without getting his tongue twisted in "We Can Work It Out."
  • The Smothers Brothers had a song "My Old Man", in which each verse started "My old man's an X, what do you think about that?" and X was then included multiple times in the verse (starting with "sailor", and then "anthropologist" and "refrigerator repairman"). The last verse started "My old man's a cotton-pickin, finger-lickin, chicken plucker, what do you think about that?" ("You'd better not make a mistake!" "Let's hope not.")
  • In an early episode of Azumanga Daioh, child prodigy Chiyo-chan admits that tongue twisters are one of the few things she's not good at, as she demonstrates when she adorably stumbles over saying "Basu gasu bakuhatsu" ("Bus gas explosion").
  • Lady in the Dark has one in "The Best Years Of His Life" (which fortunately is nowhere near as fast as the Patter Song sung by the same character immediately after):
    The mister who once was the master of two
    Would make of his mistress his Mrs.
    But he's missed out on Mrs. for the mistress is through—
    What a mess of a mish-mash this is!
  • The announcer on Tom Slick has a tough time when Tom kits the Thunderbolt Grease Slapper with rubber baby buggy bumpers.
  • You can play tongue twisters with Rio in Lifeline after locating the correct command. Copy her without flubbing the words and she regains some health for free.
  • In The Court Jester, instructions for the jester to avoid being poisoned are: the vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison, and the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true. Later (because the chalice from the palace is broken), the pellet with the poison is in the flagon with the dragon, and the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.