The Ancient Game Of Tongue-twisters

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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!

The surrealistic, Daliesque quality inherent in the longer twisters carries over also into a good majority of the shorter ones. This quality, like the “nonsense” words in many of the cumulative folksongs for children adds to their enjoyment by youngsters.

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 haddock, a haddock, a black-spotted haddock, A black spot on the black back of a black-spotted haddock. A cup of proper coffee in a copper coffee pot. There’s blood on the rubber baby buggy bumpers. The crow flew over the river with a lump of raw liver in his mouth. She sawed six slick, sleek, slim, slender saplings. I go by a Blue Goose bus. Cross crossings cautiously. The seething sea ceaseth, and thus the seething sea sufficeth us.

Several informants wrote of a game which they enjoyed in their youth, a game which obviously must have contributed much to the tongue-twister repertoire. Quite simply, it consists of concocting long sentences and beginning each word in the sentence with the same letter followed by vowel or consonant combinations to produce a twister:

Six sick soldiers sighted seven slowly sinking ships. Frivolous fat Fannie fried fresh fish furiously Friday forenoon for four famished Frenchmen.

With these sentences we have come, pedagogically, full circle to Mr. Shoemaker and his “recreations in articulation”: in these late and degenerate days, such sentences must surely be termed “vocabulary builders!”

The folk perversely call them tongue-twisters, and enjoy them.