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".
- 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.
- And while we're on the topic of watches we've got:
Three Swedish switched witches watch three Swiss Swatch watch switches.
Which Swedish switched witch watches which Swiss Swatch watch switch?
- 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. Or 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!
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
- And its answer:
- According to at least one edition of the Guinness 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.
English version: Fisher(man) Fritz fished fresh fish, fresh fish fished fisher(man) Fritz
- Announcers' tests, used to determine if someone has a suitable speaking voice for radio or narration, often include tongue-twisters. A classic example requires reciting the following, from memory, without an error:
Three squawking geese
Four Limerick oysters
Five corpulent porpoises
Six bottles of smooth and pink Pepto Bismal (or Six pairs of Don Alverzo's Tweezers)
Seven thousand Macedonians in full battle array
Eight brass monkeys from the ancient, sacred crypts of Egypt
Nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic old men on roller skates with a marked propensity towards procrastination and sloth
Ten lyrical, spherical, diabolical denizens of the deep who haul stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivery, all at the same time
- 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.
I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit.
- While it's not as hard to say as some of the others, "Cunning Stunts" is probably one of the worst to mess up.
- 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 a Honey Bunches Of Oats Cereal commercial, an actress tries and fails repeatedly to recite what's supposed to be:
"Crispy crunchy bunches, for breakfast, brunch, and lunches."
- In a commercial for the restaurant chain Culver's:
"A better bit of beef makes a butter burger better!"
- 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").
- 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
- Altair Institute of Magic has the following (taken from "Fox in Socks"):
Luna: Luke Luck likes lakes, Luke's duck likes lakes. Luke Luck licks lakes, Luke's duck licks lakes. Duck takes licks in lakes Luke Luck likes, Luke Luck takes licks in lakes duck likes.
- The third verse of Baloo's "Bare Necessities" song in The Jungle Book (1967) is one long tongue twister (this sounds better with the music):
Now when you pick a pawpaw,
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear
Try to use the claw
But you don't need to use the claw, when you pick a pear of the big pawpaw
Have I given you a clue?
- In The Last Unicorn, Schmendrick tries twice and just gives up:
"And be wary of wousing a wizard's wath! Rousing a rizard's... Be wary of making a magician angry!"
- Zombie-child movie Cooties points out the difficulty one can have in saying the name of those pickup trucks with double-wheels in the back: "dual-rear-wheel".
- The Court Jester starred Danny Kaye, who could tear through tongue twisters with aplomb. The writers played to this by packing the script full of them:
- The 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."
- Also: "The Duchess dove at the Duke just when the Duke dove at the Doge. Now the Duke ducked, the Doge dodged, and the Duchess didn't. So the Duke got the Duchess, the Duchess got the Doge, and the Doge got the Duke!"
- The Jerk has a scene of Navin Talking in Bed with Marie in which he quotes the "sheet-slitting" tongue twister:
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.
- 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.
- 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?
- In Heinlein's short time-paradox story "By His Bootstraps", Wilson demonstrates that he is drunk by reciting "Peter Piper", and having it come out "Peter Piper pepped a pick of pippered peckles".
- In Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest, the Man in the Yellow Hat sends George to select a pumpkin. The young man who's managing the pumpkin patch rattles off a whole series of these, explaining that he's a "peppy expert picker, picking proper pumpkins".
- The Pheasant Plucking Song is referenced in the City Watch novels, as Fred Colon 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.
- In Feet of Clay, Vimes recites "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" to prove he's not drunk.
- 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. Good luck getting through the "three free fleas" tongue twister without stumbling.
- Oh Say Can You Say's twisters are of varying quality and ease, but a few of them top Fox in Socks when taken individually. Yes, 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 daddys ear will get blispers and bliskers.
- Garrett, P.I.: 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.
- 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. It's actually much older than the movie or the book it was based on (first recorded in print sometime in the 18th century), and often used as a warmup for theatre actors. The full version goes "Amidst the mists and fiercest frosts/With barest wrists and stoutest boasts/He thrusts his fists against the posts/And still insists he sees the ghosts."
- A variant of the "announcers' test" example, above, appears in the 1997 novel Matters of Chance by Jeannette Haien:
One good hen
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
- Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime: A subplot in The Fourth Bear turns out to be an Overly Prepared Gag setup to a tongue-twister, which prompts one character to say "I don't know how he gets away with it".
- 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.
- F. Gwynplaine Macintyre's historical murder-mystery story The Weighing of the Heart opens with a Tongue Twister in Ancient Egyptian, no less:
Medu m'at mai ma'at mety ["A mummy speaks in straightforward truth"]
- Stephen Fry has recounted how the phrase "Harry pocketed it" gave him horrible stuttering problems while recording the audiobook version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
- On 30 Rock, Jenna starred in a film called "The Rural Juror", which no one can pronounce without it sounding like gibberish.
- In Arrested Development, a recurring character Bob Loblaw is a lawyer, creating various instants of tongue twister in both visual and dialogue form.
Bob Loblaw: Actually, I was going to stay in my office tonight and work on my law blog.
Tobias: Of course. Bob Loblaw Law Blog.
- 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.
- In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jake and Terry turn one of these into a tool of gloating after using a mobile situation command vehicle borrowed from the Department of Homeland Security to gain the upper-hand in a bet with Amy and Charles to see who can recover the most escape fugitives from a prison bus crash:
[Regarding the mobile situation command vehicle]
Terry: She's also got a holding cell. Which is big enough for three perps. Jake, counting this guy, how many perps have we caught and placed in the three-perp perp cell?
Jake: Well, Sarge, we've placed three perps in the three-perp perp cell.
Terry: So the three-perp perp cell is full?
Jake: Full of three perps is the three-perp perp cell—
Amy: Okay stop saying 'perps' and 'cell' and 'three'.
- 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.
- Doctor Who:
- "The Power of the Daleks": The Second Doctor gets distracted by this trope after asking his companions "But will Lesterson listen?". Polly joins him in repeating "Lesterson listen" as fast as possible.
- From "The Parting of the Ways":
Captain Jack: We've got a fully-functional force field. Try saying that when you're drunk.
- In season 6 of How I Met Your Mother, when Ted confronts Victoria about her quite close friend Klaus from her class:
Ted: When you were living in Germany, and we were doing the whole long-distance thing... wasn't there a Klaus in your class?
Victoria: There was a Klaus in my class.
Ted: And you and Klaus were close.
Victoria: Not that close.
Ted: Yes, yes, you and the Klaus from your class were quite close.
Victoria: Kind of close.
Ted: Was that your Klaus?
Victoria: My Klaus?
Ted: In your class.
Victoria: In my class?
Ted: Is your Klaus the kind of close Klaus from your class?
- Lambchops Play Along has a segment in which a tongue twister is recited by one of the characters and a song about such phrases.
- The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had "My Old Man", a song 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.")
- Between the Lions had the song "Sven Said, 'Ted, Send Ten Tents'". The title should say it all.
- In Harry Lauder's "Wee Deoch an Doris" one is used as an index of sobriety.
Just a wee deoch an doris, just a wee drop, that's all.
Just a wee deoch an doris afore ye gang awa.
There's a wee wifie waitin' in a wee but an ben.
If you can say, "It's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht",
Then yer a'richt, ye ken.
- Edward "Eddy J" Lemberger's The Tongue Twister Song!
- One of Ray Stevens' earliest hits is "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills" about a cure-all patent medicinal pill, with one of the lengthiest song titles which it would be impossible to say three consecutive times fast, let alone twice.
- The 6ths, a side project from Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, have a name that itself is difficult to say without just sounding like "the six." Their two albums so far are titled Wasps' Nests and Hyacinths & Thistles, the latter of which is almost impossible to say fast once, much less three times.
- One skit on John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme had two management consultants questioning whether by the seashore is the best place to sell seashells, with the tongue twister in question getting increasingly convoluted, until Mrs Shaw (the "she" in question) explains:
Mrs Shaw: Right... But these shells that I sell here in my store, I sell as souvenirs of the seashore. Here by the seashore, shells are a draw, but inshore seashells lose their allure. When you buy seashells, if ever, I'm sure you buy seashells by the seashore.
- 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.
- 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"?
- 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!
- These are used as teaching tools in My Fair Lady: "In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen." At the Ascot race, Eliza shows off her eloquence by discussing the weather in tongue twisters.
- Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge: Guybrush can ask the carpenter on Scabb Island "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" Trying to get an answer to this question turns into an Overly Long Gag. Then the Updated Re-release gave audiences a fully-voiced version of the exchange.
- 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.
- 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 final episode of Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse, "The City That Dares Not Sleep", Mr. Featherly repeats "Unique New York" a few times in order to warm up for... laying an egg. It Makes Sense in Context.
- Ask That Guy with the Glasses once rattled off three tongue-twisters in sequence, without stumbling or pausing for breath. One can only imagine the amount of takes it must have taken for him to do that.
- In his review of Rogue One, Epic Voice Guy explains: "Rogue One is a sequel to the prequels of the sequels of the prequels that are the originals in which this is a prequel of, but not a sequel to the sequel of the originals."
- One episode had the Warners encountering a pirate, who tells them "You're trespassing on my private pirate property!" Wakko challenges him to say that three times fast. He fails.
- Another episode has the Warners in an altercation with a Jerkass news anchor who was unfairly harsh over them getting his food order wrong, and calling him a "picky pickle picker".
- The Beatles: George can't say "soothsayer to the stars" without getting his tongue twisted in "We Can Work It Out".
- BoJack Horseman is quite fond of these. It was once said that that was one of the things that drives Amy Sedaris, the voice of Princess Carolyn, insane about the series. It was evident in season four when Todd is paired with celebrity actress Courtney Portnoy. Here's a compilation of all the tongue twisters from the first four seasons. Season six finally explained that Princess Carolyn constructs these a mnemonic device, and it becomes a breakthrough with connecting to and soothing her adopted porcupine daughter.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Spark Team on Hero Elementary have a run-in with rapidly-growing violet-colored weeds, aka "super purple pop-up plants". Saying the plants' name poses as much of a problem as suppressing their spread, for everyone but AJ (who keeps correcting the others' flubbed pronunciation).
- 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.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In the "Freaky Friday" Flip episode "She Talks to Angel", once Angel realises he can talk, he soon starts rattling off the tongue twisters "Rubber baby buggy bumpers" and "Toy boat", weirding out the ponies around him.
- Nature Cat:
- Lampshaded when the title character proposes a trip to the grocery store to buy birdseed for "the Fabulous Feast for our Fine Feathered Friends".
- Daisy tries asking an actual woodchuck the solution to the "How much wood" example (see above). The woodchuck, evidently sick and tired of being asked that, refuses to come out of his burrow, instead sticking out a "No Tongue Twisters" sign.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. It doesn't pan out, thanks to Brain being unable to talk straight after suffering a blow to the head.
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 "Bullwinkle's Corner" episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Bullwinkle interviews Peter Piper, who says he quit the pickled pepper business because even he had trouble saying the tongue twister. So now he helps his sister sell sea shells by the sea shore. ("That's better?" exclaims Bullwinkle.)
- The Simpsons once featured the Rubber Baby Buggy Bumper Babysitting Service. Strangely, no one seems to have a problem with saying the name.
- Used in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Money Talks".
Flying Dutchman: All sales are final from the Flying Dutchman, especially for a selfish shellfish like yourself! (to the viewer) Try saying that three times fast.
- The announcer on Tom Slick has a tough time when Tom kits the Thunderbolt Grease Slapper with rubber baby buggy bumpers.
- On Wild Kratts, Martin names a honey guide "Sweet Tweet", which Chris finds difficult to say.