Try saying Fruit flies fry fresh flute fish. Then try saying it three times in a row.
Tongue twisters are used in speech therapy to correct lisps and other speech problems in children. They’re also used with adults who have speech problems following stroke or injury to the brain. And they’re used by therapists training actors. But apart from therapeutic use, tongue twisters are mainly just fun for kids and occasionally for adults, (perhaps after a few drinks.)
Bertie Wooster, the amiable PG Wodehouse character, tries to prove he isn’t drunk in one of his capers by saying “She stood at the door of Burgess’s fish sauce shop welcoming him in.”
That’s not a very challenging tongue twister unless you say it fast when drunk, but how about:
The seething sea ceaseth and thus the seething sea sufficeth us.
That one, deemed the hardest tongue twister by journalist William Poundstone in the ’80s, completely does for me. Even people who have clear diction and no difficulty in speaking can have trouble with certain repeated sounds which are similar but not identical. S and Th do it for me. Thistle may not normally give people a problem but try saying Thirty-six thistles sliced by thin scissors. Or The sins of the six sexy thin sisters.
Personally, they both thscramble the speech centre in my brain. Just afterwards, I can still say Thin but Sin sounds the thame as Thin.
Not everyone has difficulty with S and Th alone. I used to know someone who had trouble pronouncing L’s from time to time. He lived near a large house called Lilliesleaf, a name which he just couldn’t say. The L’s sounded a bit like weak W’s: Wiwwiesweaf. For him, it would have been a real problem to say Little lambs like licking lilac at Lilliesleaf whereas most English speakers would have no problem with those sounds.
Other sounds which can tie the tongue when used together are Tch and Sh. Which witch wished which wish? is pretty hard. And a string of M’s can trip you up too:
“Are you copper-bottoming ’em, my man?” “No, I’m aluminuming ’em, mum.”
And R’s with W’s can be problematic: We’re really wobbly real rear wheels.
Scientific terms must pose a problem to the professionals who work with them routinely. It’s all very well writing Tetramethyldiparadiaminobenzophenol on a notepad but imagine calling to the guy in the stores, asking him to bring you half a cupful.
Every language has its tongue twisters apparently. The website www.uebersetzung.at lists thousands of tongue twisters in hundreds of languages. As well as all the familiar ones in English – Peter Picking Pickled Peppers and Betty Botter with her butter – there are heaps of fairly wild looking phrases, impossible to pronouce. I wasn’t even aware there is a language called Malayalam. (Malay is different it seems.) But Malayalam – even apart from the fact that you instinctively want to say Malayam – has some pretty interesting looking tongue twisters. This one for example:
Manasilakathathu manasilayennu paranjal, manasilayathukoodi manasilakathe pookum. Manasilayoo?
My favourite from that site, in Tagalog (Filipino) – and I have no idea what it means – is:
Palakang Kabkab, kumakalabukab, kaka-kalabukab pa lamang, kumakalabukab na naman.
Makes even thistles thound easthy…