Try saying “toy boat” five times as fast as you can without tripping up – it’s hard! Tongue twisters are fast, easy games they can get anyone in a knot. Did you know that the Guinness World Record holder for the most difficult tongue twister is “the sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick”? Don’t worry we tried (and failed) too.
So, why is it that we can’t say tongue twisters easily? They’re such simple words! And why were they invented? Surely not just to make us look like fools, right?
What is a Tongue Twister?
A tongue twister is a group of words that are hard to say together in a close sequence. They usually have the same sounding consonants. So, when you do try to say the words in order, the pronunciation comes out all wrong. For example, as Josh Clark mentions, if you try to say “toy boat” multiple times and fast, it sounds more like you’re saying “tie boyte.”
Examples of Tongue Twisters
Tongue twisters can be lengthy, or just a few words long. Two of the most widely-known tongue twisters are:
- She sells sea shells by the sea shore
- Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
But for those who prefer short and quick ones, here are some well-known examples. Try to read them as fast as you can! And don’t underestimate these short ones, they’re just as tricky!
- Red leather, yellow leather
- Red lorry, yellow lorry
- Snap crackle pop (x3)
- Unique New York
- Thin sticks, thick bricks
And of course, for the more advanced, we can’t forget about this one!
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.
The origin of tongue twisters
Did you know that the famous sea shell tongue twister dates back to 19th century England? It’s about a woman called Mary Anning. She used to collect shells and fossils on the beach to sell to wealthy families and make money for her own family. While the tongue twister is famous, maybe Mary deserves some more fame herself – she actually discovered the first flying dinosaur which is displayed in the British Museum!
According to Britannica, tongue twisters were often passed down generations. They became a rich part of folklore. Tongue twisters were often created and used as a form of amusement and entertainment long ago, just as they are in school playgrounds today.
Tongue twisters weren’t only used as amusing wordplay. They were actually used in schools as early as 1878 for speech training to improve articulation too. How neat! In fact, they were also used to treat hiccups (we can’t guarantee the results though).
Why Does This Jumbled Pronunciation Happen?
So why is it that when a few simple words are put together, it causes so much havoc to our pronunciation? It’s all because of a cognitive and physical error – a battle between the brain and the tongue. It can affect even the best of speakers!
Research has shown that multiple regions of the brain are involved in controlling speech. The brain gets mixed up with what signals it’s sending when you say syllables that sound similar.
When the brain loses coordination of the mouth, the tongue gets jumbled up. Because the tongue has trouble saying phrases such as “toy boat” quickly, one word often replaces the other. And this is why “toy boat” turns into “tie boyt”!
Hopefully you’ve learnt a little, or a lot about tongue twisters. We sure have! It’s fascinating how our brain and our body works. Who knew that they were used to help improve speech!
Try out the examples in this blog and see if you can conquer them. We guarantee they will bring some laughter. They definitely did as one of the activities we tested in our many KidsWantU App focus groups! Happy tongue twisting!
Jump in here to get access to the KidsWantU app and other fun family activities within it. 😊