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Clever little cats don’t scratch crocodiles (and other tongue twisters)

Illustration of Peter Piper from the 1838 US e...

Peter Piper

Or, in the original German version: Kluge kleine Katzen kratzen keine Krokodile. But then you knew that already, didn’t you?

A while ago, we looked at some phrases in different languages to do with madness and today we’ve gone back to the marvellous Omniglot site – http://www.omniglot.com – to look at tongue twisters, those linguistic gymnastics that always seem to be easier to say after a few glasses of the local alcoholic beverage

So let’s have a look at some in English, first of all. It’s all about similarities in sounds or groups of letters, so L, R, and Y appear in Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry and Red Leather Robots, Yellow Leather Robots (interesting image …). With the Ps we have Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers and with Si and Sh sounds, The sixth sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.

These sounds also appear to be common in Hebrew – (Sarah shara shir same’ach) שָׂרָה שָׁרָה שִׂיר שָׁמְחַ (Sarah is singing a happy song) and French – Les chaussettes de l’archi-duchesses sont-elles sèches, archi-sèches? (Are the archduchess’ socks dry, very dry?) whereas in Korean we get, as you might expect, sounds we don’t normally associate with Western languages – kan-jang-kong-jang kong-jang-jang-eun kang kong-jang-jang-ee-go, dwen-jang-kong-jang kong-jang-jang-eun kong kong-jang-jang-ee-da. (The president of the soysauce factory is president Kang, and the president of the bean paste factory is president Kong).

This also shows us that another of the characteristics of tongue twisters in many cases is an image that native speakers can understand (provided it makes sense, of course), so Swedish gives us Sex laxar i en laxask (Six salmon in a salmon-box) and Swahili, the beautiful Watu wale wawili wa Watu wala wali (People, those two of Watu habitually eat boiled rice).

But the prize for the most twisted twister of tongues goes to this gem from Icelandic.

Ái á Á, á á í á. (Grandfather from “Á” farm has a sheep in a river).

It’s enough to make me give up my dream of learning Icelandic here and now. That’s it. I quit.

Strange Random Tongue Twister Quote:

If your Daddy’s name is Jim and if Jim swims and if Jim’s slim, the perfect Christmas gift for him is a set of Slim Jim Swim Fins. – Dr. Seuss

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