Songs my childhood taught me 3: Tongue-twisters

"Peter Piper" From Peter Piper's Practical Principles of Plain & Perfect Pronunciation

 

Yeah yeah … We all know what sort of vegetable Peter Piper picked, what that clueless lady sold on the seashore, and what was on Bitty Batter’s shopping list. But why are these inane repetitive statements shared with such regularity and delight — especially amongst kids? Because they’re tongue-twisters: the floor exercises of lingual gymnastics, the fun and games of a challenging oral workout. They are phrases or short pieces of prose designed deliberately damned difficult to articulate, and their fun lies not in their poetry or meaning but purely in the sport of pronunciation. Unlike the Freudian slip, in which deepest darkest secrets spill out of minds and mouths on the wings of a subconscious urge to express oneself, these twisters are tongue catnip, messing only with our physiology and not with our ids or superegos; and when the forced errors inevitably occur, our prize is hilarity — sometimes of the vulgar kind. Tangle your tongues with these.

 

Peter Piper picked a pick of pickled peppers;
a peck of pickled peppers, Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

 

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.

 

Bitty Batter bought some butter
“But,” said she, “this butter’s bitter.
If I put it in my batter,
It will make my batter bitter.”
So she bought some better butter,
And she put the better butter in the bitter batter,
And made the bitter batter better.

 

Theophilus Thistle, the successful thistle-sifter,
While sifting a sieve-full of unsifted thistles,
Thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb.
Now if Theophilus Thistle, while sifting a sieve-full of unsifted thistles,
Thrust three thousand thistles through the thick of his thumb,
See that thou, while sifting a sieve-full of unsifted thistles,
Thrust not three thousand thistles through the thick of thy thumb.
Success to the successful thistle-sifter!

Red Leather, Yellow Leather

Red lorry, yellow lorry

Cecily thought Sicily less thistly than Thessaly.

Eleven benevolent elephants

Unique New York

Black background, brown background

A skunk sat on a stump, The stump thunk the skunk stunk, The skunk thunk the stump stunk.

Six gray geese grazing gaily into Greece. “What eat ye, gray geese? Green grass, gray geese?”

Five brave maids, sitting on five broad beds, braiding broad braids. I said to those five brave maids, sitting on five broad beds, braiding broad braids, “Braid broad braids, brave maids.”

A cup of proper coffee in a copper coffee pot.

She sawed six slick, sleek, slim, slender saplings.

Cross crossings cautiously.

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

Now, careful with these, please: not in front of the children …

I’m not the fig plucker,
Nor the fig pluckers’ son,
But I’ll pluck figs
Till the fig plucker comes.

Mrs Puggy Wuggy has a square cut punt.
Not a punt cut square,
Just a square cut punt.
It’s round in the stern and blunt in the front.
Mrs Puggy Wuggy has a square cut punt.

Mrs Hunt had a country cut front in the front of her country cut pettycoat.

Six stick shifts stuck shut.

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