Twisting Tongues Thoroughly

Sep 14, 2017 Uncategorized

While two weeks ago we handled the origins and the creation of the cockney rhyming slang today we want to present you with a more international linguistic phenomenon: the tongue twister!

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defined the tongue twister as a group of words “made difficult to articulate” by putting words of alliterative, consonant and rhyming nature together. Shorter sentences must be repeated in order to become tongue twisters.


No one can say for sure when tongue twisters originated. They were passed down as an oral tradition through the generations until the 19th century. They become part of the linguistic culture and the folklore.  There are two particularly famous British tongue twisters with even more interesting background stories.

She sells seashells

She sells seashells by the seashore. The shells she sells are surely seashells

So if she sells shells on the seashore, I’m sure she sells seashore shells.

Created in 1908 by Terry Sullivan, this twister was inspired by Mary Anning of Dorset of the 19th century. The story goes that her family used to collect shells and fossils at the local beach and sell to the tourists. At the time, it was fashionable to keep cabinets with shells and fossil as collections in the richer homes. Mary Anning should be correctly credited with the discovery of several dinosaurs including the temnodontosaurus, plesiosaurus and the pterosaurs. These discoveries which happened years before Charles Darwin published his famous book on evolution, already paved the way for discussions about evolutions and extinction.

Peter Piper

Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled peppers. A pack of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.

If Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled peppers, where’s the pack of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

The name is anglicised from “Pierre Poivre”. He was a French pirate that raided Dutch ships and warehouses for spices and tired to make them more widely available in Europe (and cheaper!) in the mid-1700s. We should know two more things: ‘peppers’ was the generic term for all spices. Secondly, lime was used to prevent others who bought spices from planting them in their garden and growing. Essentially, this is about why Peter Piper’s peppers wouldn’t grow in his garden when he tried to plant them!


Several benefits seem to exist from learning to say certain tongue twisters! They help improve articulation and pronunciation. It helps the speaker understand which tongue movements correspond to which sound. This is why in many films and TV shows, we can see characters making these sorts of enunciation. They also help with grasping the differences in pronunciation, such as between ‘though’ and ‘tough’ or ‘through’ and ‘thorough’. Speech therapists decide to use tongue twisters to help improve or cure defects, such as stutters.


Challenge yourself to say the ones that we have in this article! #tonguetwisterchallenge

BySpeak Up London

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